New COM theatre director trains in action and accents
Crossed pirate swords and Captain America’s star-emblazoned shield guard the walls of H. Russ Brown’s office.
With his motto “Love is my sword, faith is my armour and humor is my shield,” Brown, the new COM Community Theatre director and instructor, has acted, taught and directed. However, he specializes in the signatures of Errol Flynn and Jackie Chan – stage combat.
Coordinating “any moment of violence from a simple pratfall to a 30-person brawl,” he’s worked as a fight choreographer in over 100 shows – and one video game.
At COM his role is twofold: teaching theatre students and directing shows at the COM Community Theatre.
His acting class contains a unit of stage combat, his specialty that began while a student at Navarro College. With a background in martial arts, he was recruited to choreograph a de-pantsing scuffle.
He later trained with Fight Master David Boushey, who trained with Paddy Crane, stunt double for Errol Flynn. He’s now a nationally recognized certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors.
“There are only a few of us in the world, and COM is now one of only four colleges and universities in the state to offer this training,” said Brown. “Some of the best actor training you can get is stage combat. It involves all aspects – you use your body, words and vocal expression to tell the story.”
With a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Western Illinois University, Brown also teaches Intro to Theatre at COM.
“Students will walk out with a foundation of theatre – where it comes from, why it’s important and what goes into it,” explained Brown.
Brown also will direct this season’s upcoming productions such as the comedy “Round and Round the Garden,” where his experience in dialect coaching will come in handy. Actors in the upcoming production will speak British RP (a proper London dialect, e.g. Eliza Doolittle post-Henry Higgins).
He’s not above using his ability to mimic accents for fun – such as the time he impersonated a deliveryman on the phone and convinced his mother she was about to receive a truckload of Roma tomatoes.
However, theatre’s power extends beyond entertainment, he said.
“It holds a mirror up to society and shows what’s going on in the current world or where we’ve been before,” said Brown.
“Theatre is living … art. You can have the same actors, the same show, but that particular performance will never be seen again, unlike a movie. It’s so intimate because the actors are up there exposing themselves to opinion, to critique, to ridicule. I admire that bravery.”
Students may audition for roles in productions or be recruited to work behind the curtain.
“There are so many aspects of theatre: on stage, off stage, teaching,” said Brown. “I have former students who are actors, theatre directors, technical directors, who live all over the country. Art is everywhere, and you can make a living at it.”
Since 1972, COM Community Theatre has presented over 228 presentations including children's theatre, concerts and workshops with attendance of more than a quarter of a million people.
Preparing students for any role on or behind the stage, the COM Theatre Program hones students' gift of communication. Classes include acting, theatre, history of musical theatre and theatre dance forms. Learn more at www.com.edu/academics/areas-of-study/fine-arts/theatre-arts.