Forming Team Tony

By Allan I. Ross

Fundraiser helps ailing local theater director

Two weeks ago, Williamston Theatre’s co-founder and artistic director Tony Caselli, 45, was hospitalized. His family requested that full details not be revealed, but confirmed that he is “fighting a sudden and unexpected illness.”

The Lansing theater community is pretty tight-knit, so word spread quickly. In the ensuing swarm of warm wishes, a unique fundraiser has emerged to help his family

“None of us Michigan artists are rich, and long-term illness can be draining financially and emotionally,” Emily Sutton- Smith, Caselli’s friend and Williamston Theatre co-founder, said. “We’re expecting a full recovery, but it will be a long road. I came up with this idea (but) I had no idea it would take off like this.”

Sutton-Smith’s idea was to splash a photo taken by her husband, John Lepard (another Williamston co-founder and longtime Caselli collaborator), across a T- shirt with the words “Team Tony” blazed across the top in the “Blade Runner” font. The photo was taken on the set of “10:53,” a drama (ironically) set in a hospital waiting room that Caselli directed last year.

“Tony looks like a superhero in it,” Sutton-Smith said. “John posted it as his profile picture and people started copying it like crazy. It went viral.”

The shirts can be bought at, a website that raises charitable funds through the sale of customized T-shirts. As of Tuesday, 436 had been sold, raising $9,460 for Caselli’s wife and two children. Additional contributions above the $15 asking price are allowed.

“People have emerged from across the country who said he’s affected them in some way," Sutton-Smith said. “We’re anxious to have him back.”

To buy a shirt or make a donation to the Caselli family, go to