COVID-19 has made it a tough year for theater. That means it has also been a tough year for Ron Brown.
The Janesville native and 1975 Parker High School grad is anxious about getting back on stage as a member of the Janesville Performing Arts Center’s Steadily Improv’ing improvisation troupe and as a founder member of Chicken Boy Productions, a theater group that writes and performs murder mystery shows.
In addition to being a recognized face in a number of local shows, Brown also has directed and served on boards for both the Beloit Civic Theatre and Theatre Unlimited. In January 2022, he will be inducted into the United Arts Alliance Hall of Fame.
Despite his presence in theater, Brown considers himself an “introverted extrovert,” noting he tends to be quiet until he is comfortable with someone.
“Acting has helped me read people and situations by watching and listening,” he said.
Away from the stage, Brown is married to his wife, Elaine. He also has a daughter, Carrie; two stepdaughters, Erin and Stephanie; a stepson, Justin; and three grandchildren: Amelia, Franklin and Eloise. Brown and Elaine are also pet parents to a dog, Jordy, and a cat named Kitty.
1. How did you first get involved in acting? I always enjoyed going to see shows. My older brother was very active in theater and I enjoyed watching him perform. He was going to UW-Rock County at the time, and they needed someone for a bit part. He talked me into I. I loved it and have been active since. I was about 20 at the time.
2. What is your dream role? Is it one you have already played? I can’t say I really have a dream role, but there are shows I would love to be in. Being older, my choices would be limited. If I had to pick one, I’d say one of the two characters from “The Sunshine Boys”—Willy Clark or Al Lewis.
3. Do you get nervous being on stage? I really don’t get nervous as long as I’m prepared and know my part. Of course, things can go wrong but by being prepared, you can get back on track.
4. Do you have any rituals you undertake before performing? After warming up, I find a quiet place to get myself mentally prepared. Then, before the start of the show, I try to see each cast member to tell them to just go out and have fun.
5. You are the founder of Chicken Boy Productions. What is that, and where did the name come from? I am one of the founders. The others are Scott and Jeannie Vechinsky. Chicken Boy Productions is an interactive murder mystery troupe. We write and produce shows for different organizations as fundraisers. The three of us were sitting one day, talking after finishing a murder mystery that was purchased, and I made the comment we could write something better than that. That’s how Chicken Boy was born. In our first show, one of the characters had to use a chicken hand puppet and was called “Chicken Boy” during rehearsals. We thought it was hilarious and decided that would be the name.
6. What do you like/dislike about improvisation? Improv has taught me to be a better listener. Most people listen to respond, not to understand. As someone is talking, you are thinking what to say to add to the conversation instead of really listening to what they are saying. The downside to improv is you can’t read your partner’s mind. You both might have an idea how the scene should go but once it’s starts, you must go with the road chosen. This is the improv rule of “Yes, and …”
7. How has being involved in theater benefited you personally? Theater has brought me out of my shell. When I was younger, even in high school, you couldn’t pay me enough to get up in front of a crowd to speak. It gave me confidence in myself.
8. What is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done? I’ve done a lot of things that weren’t the best choices, but those were before digital cameras and the Internet. So, since there is no proof, it never happened, right?
9. Aside from acting, what hobbies do you take part in? I like to play golf and spend time with my grandkids. My wife and I started hiking last summer. There are some beautiful trails in the Wisconsin state park system.
10. What is your favorite food, and where is your favorite place to get it? I enjoy most food, so I can’t really say I have a favorite. Some people eat to live, I live to eat.
11. Share an embarrassing experience you faced while acting. I don’t recall any embarrassing times on stage. However, I did play a murder victim that was left in a wheelchair for a dinner theater show. People kept coming over to get a picture with “the dead guy.”
12. Which is your favorite Muppet? Most would expect me to say Fozzie Bear, but my favorite is Rowlf. He is such a laid-back, easy-going character. Not much bothers him.
13. At the grocery store, what item goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Cookies. They never go bad.
14. Name a theater production you have not taken part in, but would like to. “Show Boat.” The music is amazing.
15. Do you collect anything? Characters. I people-watch all the time. I watch their mannerisms and how they move. I can use that in future shows or when I’m teaching.
16. If you could witness any event past, present or future, what would it be? The weddings of my grandchildren. They are all quite young and I would love to be at all of their weddings.
17. Sudoku, word search or crosswords? Do you have a preference? Word searches and crosswords are my go-to. You need to get your mind sharp.
18. Share your favorite line from your favorite film. It’s not from a movie but a commercial: “What can Brown do for you?” It depends on the situation, but I use movie quotes and song lyrics often.
19. Have you written any original plays or had ideas for any? Our Chicken Boy Productions shows are all original. My two partners and I have written eight shows. Also, I recently finished my first draft for a stage production of “A Christmas Carol” based on the classic written by Charles Dickens. My story focuses more on how Scrooge becomes who he is.
20. People would be surprised to find out that I ... : Am really quite shy until you get to know me. Most performers are. What people see is a front we put on because that’s what they expect.