October’s “Actor Stealing the Spotlight” (ASS)
Hiya! Welcome to a regular feature at TBO. Every month we highlight an Actor who is currently Stealing the Spotlight (or, the ASS). This is someone from our community who particularly stood out for their performance or body of work the previous month (obviously from the shows that we actually reviewed). We think it’s fun to shine some light on those who continue to make the Baltimore theater scene just fucking great.
AND THE ASS FOR OCTOBER 2014 GOES TO:
DEREK VAUGHAN BROWN
PHOTO CREDIT: Brooke Hall, What Weekly
The BROS melted our faces in October with Electric Pharaoh, their newest show-cum-circus/offering to the beer gods. One of the best things about the show was Derek Vaughan Brown playing an excellently saucy and brooding Million, lover of Tariq, played by Corey Hennessy. Here’s what I said about him in the review:
The feline-bodied Brown makes the suave Million a sexy-as-shit Bowie with just the right amount of Prince around the edges. “Power in the Dark” the Hennessy/Brown jam, was a highlight of the second act furrsure.
I seduced Derek into an interview, so here’s what he said.
Hiya, Derek. So, what do you do, like, in your day life?
I’m a freelance business consultant, I work for What Weekly and for Human Beings Productions. We do visual content creation, video photography, graphic design work.
You’ve mentioned that you began acting with Murdercastle which, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t that long ago. I’m impressed. How did you get involved with the company? Talk to me about your journey from that to Pharaoh.
Yeah, Murdercastle auditions were the middle of January 2013. I decided I was going to audition because it was this dark, intense, serious work. I’d never really been involved with theater before because it seemed so light-hearted and I was always so angry. Those dark, sad elements resonated with me as a younger man. I thought Murdercastle was pretty metal. I wasn’t a performer at all, I sang for rock bands and stuff, nothing too serious. So I got the lead role, H.H. Holmes, in that and it was my first introduction to the big crazy world of acting. Chris Krysztofiak was a huge influence on me as an actor. Sarah Gorman, Moira Horowitz, Barbara Geary directed, who was fucking amazing. I was enamored, obsessed. I know that the BROS can be seen as kind of cliquey from the outside-
Who said that?
My girlfriend, actually, soon to be my wife.
Thanks. I understand that it could be seen as cliquey but everyone is really humble and encouraging. I did Grundlehammer with them and that should was a success. It’s good to be around people who push you. I’m almost at the two year mark and have done some really cool projects.
This show was so fucking big and complicated from a design perspective – what is like to put a character together in the midst of all of that chaos?
The good thing about the BROS is when you start a production you are more or less responsible for the quality of your character by showtime. You can’t just be like, “Oh, this is a boring character.” You are 100% responsible. When I took on Million he was almost a caricature. And my performance reflected that. Too big, not enough attention to detail, not enough attention to the human side of the character. Corey [Hennessey] tenaciously chased down any inconsistencies in the script and was very instrumental in making these whole, complete characters. Million at the end wasn’t the same Million as in the beginning – it started kind of hokey and was so powerful by the time it ended.
I said in my review that this show marked an important growing-up for the BROS. You have also mentioned that it updated your ideas on a few things – what did you mean? I’m intrigued.
Well. I am a white male from a middle-income family. I’m from Bel Air, Maryland. My high school had maybe five black people attending. To be openly gay was the definite exception. I’m not a kid anymore, I’ve lived in the city for years, now, I live in Mt. Vernon. We celebrate Pride. But it was a limited perspective, a limited experience. I had this weird idea, probably re-enforced by the hetero-dominant American culture, that love had to be between a man and a woman. Between two men or two women it was like “Isn’t that nice.” But there is no difference, no difference whatsoever. I had two family members who refused to come to the show. They didn’t want to see me portray a gay man. I had one family member who though it was okay that I was playing a gay man as long as I myself wasn’t gay. That was hurtful. I didn’t have to take it personally but I did. It wore on me. And the gay community, in Baltimore, in Philly, in DC were so welcoming to this. Doug Johnson [lead set designer for Pharaoh] gave me a heartfelt hug one night and told me I did a great honor for his people. It was the most powerful thing anyone has said about the show. I feel like it’s my responsibility to represent this community in an honest and fair way, regardless of what any of my friends or family think about it.
What was the most difficult thing about working on Electric Pharaoh?
Probably that struggle. Trying to fairly represent a community, to appreciate and respect them as much as I have felt appreciated and respected BY them. I am so appreciative for being given an opportunity to do so. It’s very fulfilling.
What was the audience response like, in general? Was it different than other BROS shows, in your opinion?
It was a little different. I thought Murdercastle was the first example of the BROS trying to grow up. Barbara [Geary, director of Murdercastle] actually tried to remove beer from rehearsal, which she did, for a time. She slapped down rules, she had an iron grip approach and discipline. And it was great. While the BROS have been warriors in the past now they’re like samurais. Much more polished. Murdercastle was very intense and audiences responded to that – after the lights went down, they didn’t clap until several minutes after, the end was so horrifying. Every audience member stood every night. It was huge. Grundlehammer was a different kind of show, it wasn’t about intense emotion or even real characters. It was the explosion part of the action movie. Audiences for Pharoah were definitely appreciative. It was the most shows we’ve ever sold in Philadelphia, for instance. A lot of new butts in seats. It’s funny, if you’re not in the cult, you don’t really know that it’s okay to hoot and holler in the middle of the show, and, much to the disappointment of some audience members, I’m sure, yell vulgar things.
I especially loved that the core of the show existed in Million’s relationship with Tariq. Can you say a little about your relationship to Corey? How did you guys rehearse some of the heavier stuff?
Corey and I met in Murdercastle, he was actually the first person I murdered, even though it wasn’t shown on stage. He was really close friends with Moira Horowitz and I was good friends with her also. In fact, she and Corey played lovers in 1814! The Rock Opera and she was my lover in Murdercastle and then me and Corey were lovers in Electric Pharaoh
What a triangle!
I know. So we were already connected. The fact that the relationship between Tariq and Million sold this show meant so much to Corey and it was, largely, due to his persistence in getting it right. We hung out a lot during the show. When you have to be vulnerable on stage like that, you become friends pretty fast. We cried constantly from June or July until last week. We cried an hour and a half every night. If Holmes made me more of a predator, Million made me more emotional. Corey and I were both comfortable, really, really, really great friends through this process.
How was working with Mason [Ross, director of Electric Pharaoh]?
Mason’s a great guy. He’s very heavily involved in the BROS. He’s got a giant, eccentric, smart guy brain. He and Chuck [Green, author of Electric Pharaoh] are really on the same brain wavelength. Mason was the perfect pick to direct this, he came out with an amazing, well-polished show. Greg Bowen, the assistant director, was also amazing to work with.
What is being on tour with the BROS like?
Oh man, being on tour is great. The BROS love to party, but also work really hard. A lot of the crew involved in touring will like, show up at six in the morning after sleeping on the dressing room floor. It’s insane. They once built a whole stage in the middle of a shopping mall. When the BROS tour, we can accomplish anything. I’d like to see more shows touring further, spreading the gospel a little. I want people to understand who we are. And when Electric Pharaoh went on tour, it showed a more sensitive side of the BROS, more intelligent instead of just swinging our dicks around.
Who parties the hardest?
Danielle Robinette really is the baddest bitch. She’s number one on the party list, for sure. If it’s 3 a.m. and someone’s up drinking, it’s probably her.
Who is the best actor in Baltimore?
To rephrase the question, the best performance I’ve seen in awhile was Trevor Wilhelms in Marat/Sade. I don’t see enough theater. I don’t see much theater at all, actually.
Wanna talk some shit about anyone in the cast or crew and have it attached to your name forever on the internet?
Not even a little bit. No one in the BROS ever really talks shit. It’s pretty goddamned positive. Everybody’s great.
Anything you’ve been dying to say to the Baltimore theater scene? You can wag your finger if you want, everyone always loves that.
I think everyone in the community and everyone who sees theater in this city should be paying attention to DIY theater. Stillpointe does great work, Single Carrot. Come out, see some shows, drink some alcohol. You’ll live longer.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m doing a Stillpointe show called The Benefactor by Kimberly Lynn. I don’t want to give too much away.
Wanna kvetch about anything? My blog is great for that.
Got someone you’d like to nominate for next month’s ASS? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.