Director of Graduate Studies for the MFA Acting Program
Stan Brown is the director of graduate studies (DGS) for the MFA in Acting program in the Department of Theatre in the School of Communication. He also is the inaugural W. Rockwell Wirtz Professor of Acting. Stan received his MFA from the University of South Carolina and was named a graduate acting fellow at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. Previously, Stan taught acting at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England and worked with the voice department of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has worked as a professional actor for over 30 years in American and British theatre, film, television and radio. Some of his credits include featured roles on Homicide: Life in the Streets and recurring roles on In the Heat of the Night and I’ll Fly Away. Stan also won the Louisiana Film Prize Best Actor award for his work in the short film The Bespoke Tailoring of Mr. Bellamy.
How long have you been in the DGS role?
1 year and 2 months.
What is the most rewarding part of being a DGS?
If artists choose to train at the graduate level, they've made a commitment to themselves to achieve mastery of their craft. It's an honor to support students in keeping their commitments to themselves, especially in a world that has been fractured by the pandemic and racial unrest. Teaching and practicing live performance techniques remotely has forced educators and artists to reexamine the whole concept of actor training. It's challenged us to rediscover where and what "forward" might be for artistic culture. Suddenly, without warning, we're all pioneers. However unexpected and unsettling that is, it's also very rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone just beginning as a DGS?
Ask for help. Prioritize learning over already knowing. Trust yourself. Dream on a regular basis about how your program can grow and develop. Ask your team what they feel is holding them back. Ask your team what they need from you to do their best. Ask for more help.
What have you learned from being a DGS?
Rely on TGS. Beat the drum of the solution more than the drum of the problem. Cultivate a culture of shared governance with my team. Commit daily to encouraging and modeling presence. Rely on TGS some more. Finally, remember what Albus Dumbledore said: "It is not our abilities that show who we really are but our choices."
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
Consider this. You’re driving a car. You know your attention should rest, primarily, on the road ahead, but your attention gradually shifts to the passenger window or even the backseat. The quality of your journey will rapidly deteriorate. Yes? Now consider this. You’re acting in a scene. You know you should be actively engaged in listening, but your attention gradually shifts to an assessment of your (or your scene partner’s) performance, a potential agent or employer sitting in the audience, a past argument with a lover, the inability to pay a debt, or, most common, speaking your next line. As your mind prioritizes a planned line reading over one that results from actively listening to your scene partner in the present moment, the quality of your work will rapidly deteriorate. At the core of my research is an abiding commitment to help students find and cultivate better alignment with the present moment, the now, the most practical view of the road ahead.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
I’ve witnessed more than a generation of students be robbed of the silence and stillness needed to develop a reliable experience of present moment awareness and a personal sense of ‘now’. I watched this phenomenon expand and intensify in actor-training as the world moved into wide use of the internet, cell phones, text messaging, Google searches, and social media. I began referring to the phenomenon as “The Shift.” As effective information transference between myself and my students gradually diminished, I became depressed and burned out. Ultimately, I was eager to leave the teaching profession entirely. Then, unexpectedly prompted by a renewed interest in meditation, I found myself becoming more curious than miserable. Why was “The Shift” so successful in derailing even the most gifted and talented of my students from successfully mastering their craft? I set out on a quest to discover why.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
What’s challenging is that, while technological advancements have elevated our quality of life, they’ve also contributed to technology dependence and encouraged social breakdown. After millennia of gradual detachment from each other and from our innate sense of “now”, “self”, and “I”, many humans struggle with distinguishing between “thoughts” and being functionally aware that “I’ am having ‘thoughts'”, a condition which leaves many unwittingly trapped in cycles of addictive thinking. The way this condition proves most unfortunate for actors is that ‘being in the moment'—a hallmark of mastery in actor training—is held at a distance unconsciously. What’s rewarding is when the work helps an actor rediscover their innate alignment with the present moment. That realignment not only contributes to one’s acting ability. It contributes to their personal well-being.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
A cherished mentor once advised me, “The only thing that truly matters for your life is your ability to love.” As an acting student and then later as a professional actor, I discovered that growing in my ability to give and receive love was essential to my growth and development as an artist. I don’t believe it’s my responsibility to convince students to give and receive love. It’s pure coincidence that through present moment awareness, the benefits of giving and receiving love are revealed.
What books have been especially important to you?
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, The Actor and The Text by Cicely Berry, The Same River Twice by Alice Walker, The Magical Approach and The Education of Oversoul 7 by Jane Roberts, What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin, and A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle.
What inspires you?
Music, good acting, laughter, joy, kindness, and the genuine expression of heartfelt love.
What do you like to do for fun?
Connect with good friends. Seek and pursue my highest excitement.
Published: April 6, 2021
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