Actor, New World School of the Arts alumni and teacher Eddie Brown is a proud graduate of both DePaul University in Chicago and Yale University School of Drama. His road to acting began as early as middle school, where he ended up in a theater class by pure chance. Eddie’s path eventually led to the professional stage, where he has appeared in numerous top-notch productions – most recently the acclaimed “Topdog/Underdog” from Zoetic Stage at the Arsht Center -- but he still has the dream of performing Shakespeare one day. We caught up with him recently.
Artburst: Tell us about your journey to the stage, when did you first know this was your passion and path?
Eddie Brown: My journey was sort of a fluke. I was in middle school and I was in visual art at Rainbow Park and although I didn’t get into the magnet at Norland [Middle School, in Miami Gardens], in seventh and eighth grade I was in the advanced band program at Norland. That was just like being in the magnet music program. Then in eighth grade I didn’t want to take Physical Education class, so I visited the counselor and told her I had acute asthma that flared up when I ran, and she believed me. That lie was kind of my first “acting gig” and so the only thing available was drama.
I took that class and my teacher at the time was Ms. Kidd, who told me to consider auditioning for New World. I had only done one monologue in her class. I took a monologue I wrote to my audition at New World and they asked me about it after the audition.
The first day back from Spring Break in eighth grade my drama teacher congratulated me on being accepted to New World. Although I hadn’t received an acceptance letter or anything I was on the list that Norland had received. I was in shock because I did it all on a whim, but then fell in love with it once I graduated.
Then you went on to attend DePaul and Yale.
DePaul was like a pressure cooker because they let go 30 students in a matter of the first two years -- they went from 50 to 20 students. The morale was tough and everybody was nervous. It was conducive to pleasing faculty members, there I really wasn’t challenged as an actor.
It was great as far as learning the politics of theater and the institutional racism that exists. The lessons weren’t subtle at all, but I appreciated that experience and how I was going to stand in my truth at Yale. Going from New World to DePaul was culture shock. Chicago as a city is very segregated. The lines were very distinct. It taught me some valuable life lessons. I stayed in Chicago a few years then came back to Miami. I worked here a bit as a social worker.
When deciding on graduate school, I only auditioned for Yale, no other school. You have two call backs in one day and if you make it through that process then they invite you back to call back weekend, with workshops with all the teachers and interview again. They asked me if I was auditioning for any other schools and I said no, and they were happy to hear that because they said, “we don’t want to have to fight over you.”
A couple of weeks passed, and I was told I’d be called on a certain day. Then one day I got home, and my grandmother told me someone from Yale had called me. That day changed my whole entire life. Going to Yale was probably the best thing that ever happened to me on every level. After that I knew I could do anything. The classes were intense, but taught me how to tap into who I am to create art. They gave me the gift of freedom, I became free there.
Tell us about your mentors who helped you on your path to professional work? What advice and lessons did they provide?
I’ve always wanted a mentor, but I never got one. Someone to take me under their wing, I never had that but I’m kind of grateful that I didn’t because someone didn’t influence my aesthetic like that and I had to figure it out on my own. Ron Van Lieu, one of the most prolific teachers at Yale, he told me “don’t you act too nice, it’s about getting what you want, it’s not about being charming. We know you’re charming and we don’t care. Tell the story. If you tell the story you’ll be interesting. If you’re not interested we won’t be interested.”
Eddie Brown (right) as Lincoln in a scene from "Topdog/Underdog" the Zoetic Stage production at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
What are the most memorable productions you've done and why?
“Topdog/Underdog,” I finally got to do what I always knew I could and hadn’t gotten to. Also, “The Brother’s Eyes” written by [locally raised] Tarell Alvin McCraney, which was the first play I’d done after graduating Yale. Just the language and the story is so beautiful. I love what it says about black men and our experience.
Both plays examine the young black man and the disenfranchised and how we make decisions based on our circumstances, sometimes due to the system or of our own choice.
They allowed me to be unapologetically black. I always wanted to do work and plays that educate the audience, like “Topdog/Underdog,” where the audience gets to peek in to an experience of black .... I played Booth in “Topdog/Underdog.”
What does the future hold for you, what productions are coming up?
There’s a short film I’ve been working on with a director and we’ll re-shoot in the near future. I don’t like to work just to work, I want to work on projects that I love. I don’t act for money, I act because I love it. I don’t want to take roles that don’t challenge me. I need to be transparent. I try to choose things I know I’m going to put my all into. I’m working on writing and creating things for myself and writing a screenplay has been one of the most challenging things I’ve done.
Give us a glimpse into your dream performance.
Belize in “Angels in America,” I would love to play that role. If I had to say “dream” I would love to play Hamlet somewhere. I haven’t really gotten the chance to do much classical work.