One thing’s certain: Bill Brown won’t be appearing on any regional stage this fall. Yet few individuals have more influence on what Triangle audiences actually see in theater and dance, at a number of prestigious venues and performances, in any given season.
Been to Artsplosure, the International Festival or the Street Painting Festival in recent years? Bill was there. Going to First Night Raleigh, or the N.C. Dance Festival? What a coincidence: So’s Bill. Planning on catching the State Fair next month? Look him up when you’re on the midway, in a premiere pavilion somewhere in that prime real estate between the front gate, the Hunt building and Dorton Arena.
But look sharp, because as this region’s foremost theatrical tech and lighting design guru, Brown is a constantly moving target. And since he’s always putting the spotlight on someone else, he’s not the easiest character to spot himself.
Since the dawn of the 1990s, Brown has befriended a constellation of choreographers, directors, non-profit organizations and businesses.
In that time, he’s worked to help a number of small one and two-person dance groups realize their vision. He’s also professionally toured around the globe with Chuck Davis’ African American Dance Ensemble.
Brown has lit amateur productions for dozens at Raleigh’s Enloe High School, and hundreds at Meredith College. He’s also designed interactive exhibits seen by approximately 200,000 patrons each year at the North Carolina State Fair. The metrics suggest that about a quarter of all fairgoers in recent years were Brown’s guests in the fair’s “BioFrontiers” and “Cyberspace” pavilions.
Odds are, if you’ve been a performing artist in Raleigh or Wake County anytime in the last decade, you’ve worked with him. And if you haven’t, you’ve wanted to.
These days, Brown serves as the technical director and lighting designer at both Meredith and Enloe, teaching classes in technical theater at both venues.
As such, he not only designs lights for the College’s theater and dance productions on the mainstage in Jones Auditorium and the downstairs Studio Theater. He also encounters dozens of theater and dance artists from around the region and state when Meredith plays host to the N.C. Dance Festival, the N.C. Theater Conference, the North Carolina Dance Alliance and the N.C. Governor’s School.
Each of these features the work of affiliated artists in showcases and limited stage runs. Each of them plays before the assembled professional community of practice–not the easiest of audiences, all told.
Then there’s the Enloe Dance Benefit Concert. Hundreds of thousands may not show for this regional modern dance summit conference. But it aids the area’s premiere public high school modern dance program, and it’s become an annual dance institution. Area companies also are bringing new and repertory work to be showcased.
Well, someone has to light them. And as anyone in technical theater will tell you, one lighting plot does not fit all.
But Brown’s contributions to regional audiences go well beyond strategically arrayed parcans and leico lights. “He’s a true collaborator,” notes Alyson Colwell-Waber, Dean for Special Academic Programs at Meredith, and former head of the college’s Dance program. The description finds echoes among a number of area dance artists.
“He’s very good at understanding a dancer’s vision,” says choreographer Courtney Greer. “He doesn’t just ask about the colors we want to use. He’s always asking about the different types of emotions tied to the pieces.”
“He definitely sees the big picture,” observes Carol Kyles Finley, artistic director of the Meredith Dance Theater. It’s one of the reason Finley and associate Julee Snyder have named Brown the co-artistic director of their emergent company, Postcards Dance Project.
No typo here. Not technical or lighting designer: co-artistic director.
“It struck me that I was crediting Bill as technical director in the student shows at Meredith when he was contributing more than that,” Finley says. “Already Julee and I complement each other well in working style and process. Bill just adds another dimension to all that.”
Raleigh Little Theater’s Sarah Corrin remembers Brown’s decade as the president of Arts Access, Raleigh’s advocacy group devoted to disability and the arts. “He was a really strong advocate, willing to go out and talk to people, to make things happen. Repairing equipment, tracking down audio describers to running workshops. He’s one of those people who makes you give your best.”
Brown started an Explorer Post devoted to technical theater in the region three years ago, and his students now work with him at a number of public venues. Most recently, they produced the showcases at United Arts of Wake County’s Cultural Arts Festival, a yearly compendium of performing arts groups interested in working in regional public and private schools. Former students have gone on to work with Alvin Ailey and in professional theater in New York. One currently designs lights at N.C. Theater. Perhaps it’s not a surprise for someone Dean Colwell-Waber calls “one of the best educators in the arts.”
Assessing Brown’s past 13 years in regional arts, Corrin concludes, “The main thing about him is he has this great passion for community and for theater.”
“He pretty much lives that, twenty-four seven.”