After more than 25 years in the theater community, Scott Mellema got to play a dream role earlier this year: Shrek.
Months later at the Grand Awards, Mellema took home Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical for his role in Shrek, the Musical at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. A number of his castmates won awards as well, and the entire cast was honored as the Outstanding Musical. But this is just one of the many roles Mellema plays within the theater community, onstage and off. While he loves to act, he also directs and is a theater teacher at East Kentwood High School.
To date, Mellema has been in countless shows, acting and directing, has starred in a couple of movies — national and international — and has inspired many students to pursue theater and follow their passions.
For Mellema, though, theater was not something he knew he wanted to do from a young age.
“Growing up, I had some stuff going on in my house,” he said. “Because of that, I missed a lot of school in elementary. … And that snowballed, because I was missing very big chunks of my basic education in elementary school.”
After that, Mellema was constantly trying to catch up with his peers. In ninth grade, Mellema said he was really upset with his life and realized, “I gotta do something.” So he joined the choir.
“I was like, ‘Well, that’s totally different, I’ll try that,” Mellema said.
Being in choir led him to join the school musicals, gaining a strong interest in theater — so much so that he pursued a theater degree at Hope College after his high school counselor recommended he go into the military because of his low grades. But Mellema earned his bachelor’s degree in theater performance and theater direction, and learned a lot of what he teaches today from his professors at Hope.
After college, Mellema lived the traveling actor life and performed all around the country at various regional companies and tours. He didn’t make a lot of money and was always traveling.
“I did it long enough to realize that’s not the life I wanted to have,” he said. “This is what I want to do, but I didn’t want to do it like that. You’re always going to be on the road, you’re always going to be looking for that next job, and that’s it.”
Mellema wanted to have roots and a family. So he settled back in his hometown of Grand Rapids. This year he’s celebrating 15 years of teaching. As someone who’s passionate about teaching the theater arts, Mellema is bothered by the lack of financial support from the government around arts programs.
“When you see the government trying to choke out the arts programs, it’s because they’re trying to choke out that voice,” he said. “They don’t want that voice to exist, because that voice often challenges. Artistic people see the things going wrong in the world, and we speak up.”
In the future, Mellema would like to open a children’s theater in Grand Rapids.
“It would be specifically to bring kids in and open up their imaginations and minds to the world of theater,” he said. “The whole idea of creativity and imagination, it’s a muscle; it needs to be worked and it needs to be nurtured.”
Mellema said imagination is our “greatest asset” and that creativity makes the world a better place. In the future, he plans to focus on his role as a teacher and family man and he hopes to do more directing in the Grand Rapids community theater scene.
“You’ve got to cultivate that in your society,” he said. “You have got to cultivate that appreciation of the arts and that appreciation for creativity and imagination, and I think that we are in dire need of that in our country.”