Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, August 11, 2012.
Bruce Brown came to Dayton as a minister for the Metropolitan Community Church. But I didn't meet him until he came to help with a show at the Dayton Theatre Guild -- and ended up designing the set. The show was Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Bruce created an incredible period TV writer's office. I had been trying to get someone at the Guild to tell me when they were working -- with no luck -- when I was introduced to Bruce who said "we will be there Saturday...come on down." That is one of the wonderful things about Bruce Brown. He is inclusive. It doesn't matter what skills you may or may not have, if you want to work, Bruce will teach you what you want, or need to know. This trait didn't start in Dayton. Bruce was awarded a graduate assistance ship as an undergrad at Brigham Young University and as such was the head of the Scenic Art Department at the College of Theatre and Cinematic Arts. While in this position he won several art talent scholarships. From Brigham Young he moved to Las Vegas and worked as a stage hand and wardrobe attendant and was a member of IATSE ... All of that before being ordained.
In the years since Bruce left the ministry behind, and went to work full time as a scenic designer, Bruce has worked on 11 or more sets a season. Even with his hands full with 3 or more shows at a time, he always seems to find time to come to the rescue when another scenic designer falls ill, finds themselves in over their heads in a technical problem, or in those moments we don't speak about when a designer fails to complete a promised set. Production teams from everywhere in the area have benefitted from Bruce's creativity and good nature. Bruce has designed and built sets for Kettering Children's Theatre, The Dayton Theatre Guild, First Stage Productions, The Dayton Playhouse, MUSE Machine, Opera Funatics, The Opera Guild, Brookville High School, Centerville High School, Clark State Community College, Cedarville College, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Tecumseh High School, Northmont High School, and Beavercreek Community Theatre. I hope I didn't leave anyone out. Bruce has also taught scenic design at both Clark State Community College and Cedarville College.
Bruce's sets are wildly creative and always beautiful. From amazing forced perspective on Godspell, magically appearing roses for Beauty and the Beast, a flagstone that each patron had to touch to make sure it wasn't really stone, and shake shingles from cardboard - it is always a lesson in creativity to help Bruce build one of his creations.
But back to Bruce's generosity: Wherever Bruce works he brings creativity and know-how. From Epiphany Lutheran to Northmont High School, Bruce has a following of people who first appeared to help and came with no skills (me among them) and kept coming back because Bruce was willing to take the time and show the patience necessary to teach us how to build a set from start to finish. From legging a platform to faux painting we learned it from a master teacher. And then there was the time that Bruce attempted to teach Greg Smith how to faux paint flagstone ... Nevermind.
Bruce has loyal followings everywhere he goes. I am always intrigued to find a group of students who had never been interested in theatre before meeting Bruce, hunkered down happily painting away on a pirate ship, creating a ginormous story book, making Peter Pan's tree root home, or creating a whole forest from paper plates. And those students come back year after year and bring their friends. The same is true for the congregation at Epiphany Lutheran or in years past, the volunteers at the Guild. Bruce took a 12 year old actor under his wing at Kettering Children's Theatre and allowed the young man to assist in designing and building The Truth About Cinderella . That young man, Adam Koch, is currently designing his first Broadway set.
Although I haven't had the privilege of working with Bruce recently, I look forward to working with Bruce whenever I have the chance. His designs always raise the production values of a show -- and the actors who appear in the shows Bruce has worked on have to reach to live up to the set. Bruce provides a unique combination of artistic vision and practicality to every project he takes on. The director from Northmont High School lauds his ability to provide fantastic ideas, but willingness to adapt them to fit each production's unique needs -- and make changes last minute with cheerful patience, kindness and humor.
It is with great pleasure that I am able to induct into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, my dear friend, Bruce Brown.
-- Carol Finley
Surprise!!! Surprise!!! Surprise!!! Welcome to my 61st Birthday Party - (I am surprised I lived this long) You can send gifts later!
I recently attended a workshop on Exercise and Nutrition. The Dietician leading the workshop asked each of us to describe our daily routine. The first person admitted to certain excesses, including overeating. Most everyone agreed to that one. Then they asked me and I said, "I eat healthfully, and moderately, and I exercise frequently." The group leader then asked me if I had anything else to tell the group. "Well, yes, I also lie extensively!" So suspend your disbelief and on with my speech!
Terry asked me for a copy of my speech but I don't have one. I have never been good at speaking from a manuscript. So I have a digital recorder that will record it and then I will transcribe it for the Hall of Fame.
I wish to thank the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame for this wonderful honor. It is special to be a part of this wonderful club of people that have given so much to the theater community and I am very thankful for being a part of that. Thank You!
I would also like to thank Carol Findley for nominating me and Kay Bosse and Margie Strader for writing letters of recommendation.
I would also like to make a special thank you to Blake Senseman. It is his fault, you know that I am here. Back in 1997 we were out in front of my place watching the fireworks and Blake had heard that I had done some set design work in college so asked me if I would be interested in designing a show for the Dayton Theatre Guild. I said I would love to but would really like to work with somebody first before taking it on by myself, to get the lay of the land, know where to go buy supplies all this kind of stuff. So Blake said, "Well I am designing the first show of the year at the Guild. Why don't you come help me with it." I would then design the last show for the year, Six Degrees of Separation. Well, I said, that sounds great. So Blake and I began talking about the show and coming up with some ideas. Next thing you know I had designed the show, and Blake was helping me. That was how generous he was. So that was my introduction into the theater scene here in Dayton back in 1997. So, everything that I have done well or not so well, we can all blame Blake for it. So take a bow.
I would also like to thank all the different theaters that I have worked with. Every once in a while I would think - it would be so nice to be in just one theater and do everything there. But I have so much enjoyed working all over the place for different groups; churches, schools, community theaters, colleges. It has been a real blessing to me in pushing my abilities to design for all different spaces and situations.
I also want to thank my friends, my co-creators and people that help with the sets. I would also like to thank my directors. I love the collaboration. I go in with a design idea and when I meet with my directors we come up with a better idea.
I chat with a friend online, we have never met, we chat on Yahoo Messenger and when I told him I was going to be inducted he asked me "What are you going to say?" "Well I am going to get up and be gracious, thankful and talk about myself in a humble sort of way!" So I am trying to do that!
Theater changed my life! When I was in high school I was a very tiny little boy. I was 94 pounds in ninth grade. I am many times that now! I found a picture of myself in Art Club in an old yearbook and I am this tall and all my classmates are way taller than I am. In fact one of my classmates asked me if I went to the grade school across the street. As you can imagine I had a little bit of an inferiority complex. Theater helped me come out of that. I was in the Senior class play two years in a row, because they needed a little boy. The shows were I Remember Mama and Life with Father. I discovered that my size could be an asset and that changed my life.
After high school I went to college at Brigham Young University and I was an art major, I love to paint and to draw. But before school even started my freshman year I was auditioning for plays. About half way through college I was sitting in the fine arts center looking at the lobby of the theater and the art gallery. I asked myself which of these would I feel most left out of and it was the theater. So I switch majors. So when I was an art major I was acting in plays, when I became a theater major I was given a Graduate Assistantship as an undergrad to paint the scenery for the theater department. So art major, acting in plays, theater major painting scenery!
While in college I got several talent scholarships for my theater work. When I took my first Technical Theater class I was already painting the scenery for the theater department. When it came to the painting segment of my class, I ended up teaching my own class. No one taught me how to paint scenery, I had to learn it on my own. To this day I don't know what the heck I am doing! I got lots of books on faux finishing and adapted those techniques. So I had to basically be self taught, so... there!
I did not finish college, however, because I was kicked out of school. I was going as I mentioned to Brigham Young University and they found out I was gay and asked me to discontinue my education. I had 108 of 128 hours for my bachelors degree and I never finished.
So I left and ended up going to Las Vegas and living there for three years. While I was there I interviewed with a man named William Morris. Not the talent agency - this was an art director. He had designed several of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons, several Academy Awards Shows, the Follies Berger at the Aladdin Hotel. He had designed for Debbie Reynolds - he was a big name in the business. I built models of his Debbie Reynolds show to figure out how to pack and ship it to New York. After all this he said, "Bruce, I would love to hire you but I don't have any work myself!" That scared me to death! Here is this man with all these credentials and all this work - what hope do I have of finding work. So I put my design work on the shelf.
When I moved to Long Beach, California I got involved with this gay theater group and we produced the middle play of Torch Song Trilogy called Fugue in a Nursery. I played the part that Matthew Broderick played in the movie.
After that I became a minister with the Metropolitan Community Churches which minsters to the gay and lesbian community. It was because of the church that I ended up here in Dayton.
After leaving the church and working for DeClark's Card and Gift shop I went to work for myself in 2001 as a theatrical set designer. I was hopeful that I could survive and I have, barely! Just know that if you are going into the arts you may not make the big bucks and look at living in poverty. You may not make it rich but if you are doing what you enjoy doing - it is all worth it!
I have worked with many directors over the years. Let me tell you about directors. They can be a real blessing or a pain in the you know what! The directors I like the best are the ones that have a vision, who know what they want, are willing to articulate that but be flexible with you and come up with a better design. One of my favorite directors is Kay Bosse and another is Kay Wean. The both challenged me, they both had strong opinions and ideas about things, but I felt that they both pushed me to be better, to work harder and come up with more interesting and creative ideas. When I would get with Kay Wean to plan the summer shows at Epiphany, we would come out of our first meeting with a much better design idea than when I went into the meeting.
I am not going to go through the litany of the theaters I have worked at as Carol has already done that. Just say that since 1997 I have designed over 120 shows. Already this next year I have seven shows lined up to do. The following August I am going to retire. I won't stop completely, can't imagine that really happening but I am not going to be doing quite as much. So this is my last full year of doing my set design work. I am fine with this. After leaving college I did not do much with my set design work and had some regrets. Now I have done it, I have enjoyed it and feel like I don't need to prove it to myself anymore. I am just happy where I am at and that is OK!
One of my favorite stories is about an artist painting a landscape outdoors. A bystander looked at the clouds on the canvas with all the colors of yellow, red, blue, green and then looked at the sky and back to the canvas. He said to the artist, "I don't see all those colors in the clouds." The artist replied, "Don't you wish you did?" Theater is illusion. Theater is magic. I have always believed that my sets are the canvas for the directors and actors to paint the show on. If it is a good set then they can paint a beautiful show. That has always been my goal - to create good sets to make great shows and collaborate to create good theater.
Thank you very much!