From Acting to Sales With Michael Terrell Brown
Micheal Terrell Brown is the Director of the Sales and Engagement and an Actor for Climb Theatre located in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. Michael develops theatre programs for the benefit of local communities with Climb. He shares his TheatreArtLife with us.
Michael, How did you get started with your career?
When I was in the 8th grade, one of my teacher’s said that I had a good acting voice, so in high school, I started to do plays. That is when I decided that theatre was what I wanted to major in at college. I chose Millikin University. After that, I moved to Minnesota as an actor with Climb Theatre and that is kind of how it all started.
You started with Climb Theatre as an actor and now you are still with Climb in a business sense, what is new role?
Yes. I am officially on the executive administration; I am the director of sales and engagement.
Would you tell us about Climb Theatre?
Climb is a touring educational theatre where we do plays and classes that inspire not only youth but also adults. Inspire them to be better people and to really help out in their communities. We do programs dealing with bullying prevention, respect, friendship, and empathy – things that really help build a person’s character.
I started as an actor with them, but now I am in charge of the sales department. We contact schools and other organizations to bring our programming to them so we can help better the schools, students, and communities. I am in charge of a team of three to make those calls to the communities and schools, libraries, elder centers, and community centers. We work with different grants to help subsidize the cost of the programming for schools which is really great because so many schools cannot afford the cost of programming. I also help plan the season, actively engage with the contact at the schools to see what is really needed for their school, formatting the material to fit what they need, not just what we have already in our repertoire. We are a theatre that operates in reverse; we find out what the needs are, then we build our programming to fit those needs. We never start off writing a play or class – we start by writing our objectives first and our goals, then we build upon that.
You are located in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota – A suburb of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the United States. Are you providing classes for schools in your immediate area only or to outside areas too?
We do our programming in the upper Midwest. Minnesota is our biggest base, but we also do Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, as well as Iowa and Illinois, and hoping to branch out as the more we grow.
What is the best role/job/gig you have done and why?
I have two as far as gigs go—One is a play called American Family. A brand new play written by Carlyle Brown and directed by Marion McClinton. I got to be a little 16-year-old football player and it was the first time I got to work with a full cast that was all equity. But just to be able to sit back and watch them act, because I didn’t come on until Act 2, it was just a really great experience as a young actor.
The second one was La Cage Aux Folles. I hadn’t done a musical in seven years, and not since moving to Minnesota so I was really excited and nervous to be in this production. This was a really great comedic role and the director let me do whatever I wanted with it because he trusted me so much. I got to do all the things in school they said, “no don’t do that, or Micheal, don’t do that, or that”. I got to do most of it in a dress, heels and wig, so that was really fun.
That is fantastic!
It was pretty great.
What was the worst task you were given when you first started out in your career?
(laughs) Ohhh— one of the worst tasks I would say, and it wasn’t even really the worst task, but I did summer stock. We had to help with the costumes and we had to help with the set and we were painting… we were doing it all! We were awake until the sun came up- so it was always a long day- and the show has to go up in 2 days! So what made this gig so challenging was how to work, and get the show to happen on such a lack of sleep. That was probably one of the hardest gigs I have had to do. One of the hardest, but most rewarding.
Where did your summer stock take place?
I did it in Fort Peck Summer Theatre in Montana. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have every had in my life- it was challenging, but amazing. I am originally from Chicago- so a city boy- so all this “country stuff” just didn’t make any sense to me! But it was really fun! I got to try lots of new experiences like water skiing! I didn’t even know what water skiing was! Jet skiing! Oh, I can see the stars! It was just such a different world from what I had experienced up until that point.
That sounds like such a great experience! Did you do this one summer during college, or did you do it multiple summers?
I did it the summer of my junior year and senior year as a performer, and then I did it one more time as a choreographer.
What do you think is your best skill?
I think my best skill probably lies in my creativity. Which plays into my 9-5 job, as well as my acting career- so during 9-5 I am able to think creatively outside of the box with sales and marketing, but as an actor, I am able to bring new material to each scene that I do each time to really develop and hone in on the character.
How do you see your journey changing over the next 10 years?
Wow, the next ten years I hope my journey is easier. I hope it is fewer weeds that I have to cut down, and it is just easier for me. You know it is really great seeing older actors, They don’t have to audition—they may have to go to a callback, but sometimes they just get cast, and that is just it. With such a tight-knit theatre community, many of them have been performing for decades, and the directors already know them and how skilled they are. I would love that easier life where everyone already knows my name and career as far as acting goes.
I would also love to see myself grow more in the marketing world of Non-Profit theatre because this not what my degree is in—I just have learned these skills and it turned into a great career path for me so I would love to expand that world more.
Will you expand more on your path as an actor in Minneapolis?
When I was moving here, it was a little weird having a Chicago boy moving to Minneapolis for theatre- but I kind of knew that Minneapolis would be a great place to start out as a young actor, and it really is! There are lots and lots and lots of theatres. If one theatre dies, two more pop up in its place and that is what is so great about this city and this community. I have also been learning that the more I get involved in the theatre scene, how small the theatre community can be, everyone knows each other, which is really great! We have some great bigger theatres as well that have started to be way more supportive of people of color, women and the LGTBQ community. It is really great seeing this growth and support from these bigger theatres because it feels like the smaller theatres have already been there, supporting and reaching out, it has been really great seeing how the community comes together through Theatre. Yes, so life here in the twin cities is a really great opportunity, especially for young actors that really want to act.
You attended Millikin University, can you tell me about your time at university?
Yes, Millikin- I had a great time. It is a private university that has one of the top 10 theatre departments in the nation, it was so great to have been able to be part of a program that has excelled and received the recognition it deserves. It is an amazing school. It’s number one would have to be its musical theatre program. I was a BFA acting major, but I feel I had a really great time there and I got a really stellar foundation and education value that was put upon me. Since graduating I have worked with different companies that have seen that I went to Millikin and that is recognized in this community, even though it is such a small school in central Illinois. Those that do know it, are always happy to see that and know the value of it.
Do you recommend a university education for students that are interested in pursuing a career in Live Entertainment?
I would say, feel what you feel. I value the education that I got so much and I am happy that I got a BFA in acting. That was the path that I chose. I felt that this was the correct path for me, but I do know several people that are finishing up their degree not in theatre, or didn’t even go to college and they are on point.
I don’t think an education necessarily has to come from a university. You get that experience elsewhere and as an actor, or any theatre practitioner, you can learn those skills working in the different theatres and in daily life. I am 31 years in and I am still learning my craft, honing in on that, every show I am getting better and better.
What advice or pearls of wisdom do you have for aspiring performers starting a career in theatre?
If it is your passion, go for it. Just do it. You are super young, you don’t have as many commitments and responsibilities as you will have later in life- so if this is something you feel in your heart that you want to do, then you should go for it—down the line you may change your mind or your path, but go for it!
Don’t be the one that has regrets and wishes you would have followed your dreams. Try for it when you actually can.
Tell us about your TheatreArtLife, describe what happens in your life in front of the curtain and what happens behind the scenes?
In life and in theatre there is always drama, there is comedy, there are struggles, but still you have to present this perfection in front of that curtain—you have this script, and this character- and even if the set is falling apart, you need to own it and make it work, and when you are backstage that is when you can freak out about it all. Like the duck on top of the water, everything looks smooth and calm, just floating along- while underneath the water his little legs are pumping along as fast as he can.
Everything looks fine and smooth sailing in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, you can let loose and deal with all the problems that may have come up during the production.
Knowing everything you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I would tell 18-year-old Michael to never give up. That would be the biggest thing. Always have courage.
When I moved to the Twin Cities, I was in Montana finishing up Summer Stock. I had two bags, never been to Minneapolis before, and I did it, I just went. Adult Michael now looks back and thinks, wow that is so scary, to just get up and go, not to have any plans, just do go for it. I wish I could be 21- year-old Michael to remind him to be that courageous still; to keep that courage in the back of your head. I would tell him to know your worth. Just because you might get pigeonholed as one type or in one direction, you have the ability to show someone that you can do more. To remind yourself that you are talented and deserve every role you put yourself out there for. I would also say to go to every audition you can, even the ones you think you may not be ready for or are scared to try for—what are they going to tell you, No? You won’t get every role you don’t try out for. So try out for all the roles you want to be cast in. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get cast, every director has a different vision for a show, you just might not be the right fit this one time.
Visit Climb Theatre and learn about their work and mission in Minnesota.