Director of the theater hit The Liar, William Brown has multiple projects throughout the Chicago area. Not only has the Writers' Theatre now extended the run of the iambic-pentameter play but it was recently announced that his TimeLine Theatre Company's show, To Master The Art, will be shown at the Broadway Playhouse.
Brown has collaborated with the Goodman for years, directing and starring in A Christmas Carol. He directed Lady Windermere's Fan, The Chalk Garden and his own musical adaptation of She Stoops to Conquer for Northlight Theatre. The list goes on.
The community has acknowledged this with a Jeff Award for his portrayal of Henry Kissinger in Nixon and an After Dark Award for his season of work.
Windy City Times spoke with the theater guru while he was working on Shakespeare in the Park.
Windy City Times: What do you go by? Will? Bill?
William Brown: William is my professional name but everybody calls me Bill.
WCT: Have you heard the song "Billy Brown" by Mika?
William Brown: No, I haven't. Is it a good one?
WCT: It's about a closeted gay guy. I will have to send it to you.
William Brown: I would love that. I like the name "Billy" and about two people have called me that so I guess I am not a Billy. [Laughs]
WCT: You are in the middle of Montana right now. How is that going?
William Brown: Great. I am working on Montana's Shakespeare in the Park. It has been part of my life for 33 years. I don't make it out here every year. We put up two Shakespeare productions. They go out on tour and play tiny communities. We played a place with a population of 19 and we got 250 people up there! I am very proud of it, let's put it that way.
WCT: What led you to be a director in the first place?
William Brown: It all kind of adds up. I started as a kid with music. I studied piano and sang. When I started college I had been working at the local newspaper in a small town of Beckley, W. Va., and went for a journalism scholarship. That worked out until I auditioned for The Mikado, an operetta.
I decided to go into music and moved to New York to become an opera singer. I did some small things in Brooklyn but one day my voice teacher called me into her parlor and told me she didn't think I would have a career in singing. She said I had poise. I didn't know what do with that and cried the whole way home.
I started taking improv classes and decided to be the best classical actor I could be. I auditioned for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I got an alternate part and that set me on this path; it was a wonderful program. When there was not much theater in San Francisco and I didn't want to go back to New York, on a whim, I moved to Chicago.
There was a theater company called Court Theatre that was looking for a young man and I landed two full seasons there. I knew I had won the pot of gold. I made my living as an actor for the next 15 years.
One day during a tech rehearsal I realized I had an opinion about how a light was hung, a hemline, the way the scene was played; in that moment I knew I wanted to tell the whole story. I had never thought about being a director before that. Now I make my living as a director and I couldn't be happier.
WCT: How did The Liar come about?
William Brown: I almost always do a play at Writers' Theatre. Michael Halberstam gave me my first professional job directing. He was doing Private Lives and asked me to play Elliot. If you know him he's very persuasive. I told him I would do it if I could direct Glass Menagerie. It was extortion, right? I have been with him ever since.
I was looking at David Ives' plays and I laughed from the first page of The Liar. I thought it was funny and smart. I saw a whole strand that was surprising and moving.
WCT: Was it hard for the cast to learn the lines with iambic pentameter?
William Brown: Actually, it is easier to learn verse than it is to learn prose because you have the music and you add rhymes to it and it keeps you honest. We realized in callbacks that the only way to play it was in complete truth. It was not an easy play to put on by any means, but we had so much fun.
WCT: Tell our readers about your Julia Child show.
William Brown: To Master the Art is a play that I wrote with my best friend, Doug Frew. It was commissioned from TimeLine and we did it there three years ago. We started writing it before that movie came out. The Paris scenes were there but we wanted to tell the story of a couple that goes to Europe right after the war.
This woman who was almost 50 years old didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted a purpose. She came from a wealthy family in California and couldn't cook a thing. She didn't speak French and was almost six foot. She felt like a galloping giraffe but eventually found herself. She learned French quite fluently then studied at the Cordon Bleu. She was a great educator and a fierce researcher. The book she wrote, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, changed the world. The play is about becoming Julia and how her husband's life took a downward turn.
We were worried that people wouldn't want to see it after the movie but the entire three-week run sold out 10 days after it opened. That was not us; it was where that woman lives in a lot of people's hearts and minds.
The Chicago Commercial Collective is a new producing company that wants to take non for profit shows and produce them in Chicago. Broadway in Chicago were also fans of the show so they got on board and were part of the marketing so we will be doing it in Water Tower Place.
WCT: I look forward to seeing it.
William Brown: I am so glad Windy City Times called because all the time we were in rehearsal for The Liar we thought of it as a coming out story. I came to that because I am a gay man. The main character Durant comes to a little hick town and reinvents himself. He comes to realize that the lies are keeping him from actually dealing with people as fellow human beings. Just because you are good at lying and hiding who you are doesn't necessarily make that healthy. He destroys his relationship with his father. It takes quite a serious turn. He has to come to terms with who is. In the process he finds an extraordinary love, a brother, and a new relationship with his father. It was helpful to have that structure to work with.
To Master The Art begins a limited engagement Sept. 10 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut Ave. For more information, visit timelinetheatre.com .
The Liar runs through Aug. 11 at Writers' Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct, Glencoe. See www.writerstheatre.org .