University of Southern Maine theatre professor emeritus Tom Power (left) poses for pictures with former student, actor Tony Shalhoub, speaks at a press conference on the University of Southern Maine's Portland campus on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Shalhoub, a 1977 alumni, made a $150,000 donation toward the building of a new campus arts center. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — One of the last times multi-award winning television, stage and film actor Tony Shalhoub set foot on a University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus stage, he cooked a pound of bacon while the audience was filing in, making Luther Bonney Auditorium smell like breakfast time in a New England farmhouse.

That was during a production of the play “Desire Under the Elms,” back in 1976, a year before he graduated and set off for Yale School of Drama and a Hollywood career.

On Thursday, the star of the eight-season TV series “Monk,” was back on campus, bringing home bacon of a different variety.

Shalhoub took part in a press conference announcing he’d been named honorary chair of USM’s philanthropic fundraising campaign to build a new center for the arts on the Portland campus. To kick things off, the five-time Emmy Award-winner pledged $150,000 of his own money toward a $25 million goal.

“I’m going to be the first one in,” said the Golden Globe Award winner, who has also won six Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Tony, to boot.

Shalhoub also announced a matching gift challenge for USM Center for the Arts donations offered by the Maine-based Crewe Foundation. For every $2 raised, the foundation will make a $1 matching gift.

“I’m going to cost you some money,” Shalhoub said, pointing to foundation President Bob Crewe.

A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Shalhoub transferred to USM as a sophomore and graduated in 1977 with a theater degree. He then earned a Master of Fine Arts at the highly competitive Yale School of Drama. Afterwards, he spent four years at the prestigious American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before moving to New York City, where his acting career took off with early and sustained success on Broadway, in films, and on television.

A list of his film credits include, “Men in Black,” “Barton Fink,” and two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. More recently, Shalhoub earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

During his remarks, the actor praised his former USM theater professors, naming them all and calling them a “dream team.” Shalhoub said he never would have made it into Yale without their guidance and training.

One of those professors, Tom Power, was in the audience, beaming,

“You can’t help but be proud,” Power said after the event. “What else can I say?”

While attending USM, Shalhoub said he also spent a lot of time performing with the Children’s Theater of Maine, which was run by Power at the time.

“We were touring and performing for kids in schools all over the state,” Shalhoub said. “And then, during the summer, when we weren’t in classes, we were holding workshops for young kids and doing performances for their families. I will be forever indebted to this institution — to this entire community — for encouraging, supporting and guiding me as I set out on my path.”

The planned USM Center for the Arts will become home to the university’s schools of music and musical theater. It’s also expected to play host to a multitude of academic and community performances as well as functioning as a learning lab for the more technical aspects of theater including lighting, sound and production management.

“I’m a believer that arts are essential,” Shalhoub said in closing, “They contain potential to reawaken us, to connect us — and to even transform us — and enrich our lives.”

Correction: The story has been updated to note that Dan Crewe is the president of the foundation.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.