By Carrie Thayer
There is an airbrush filled with green paint waiting for her backstage, but MSUM alumna Anne Brown doesn’t have time to wonder if Kermit was right about the ease of being green all those years ago.
Brown has lines to remember, vocal chords to warm, and dance steps to practice. This is her first role since graduating last May and moving to St. Paul, and she is playing a princess.
The role, however, isn’t your standard damsel in distress; Brown portrayed Princess Fiona in “Shrek the Musical.” The musical was performed in Minneapolis at the Morris Park Players Community Theatre. They wrapped up their last performance on Sunday.
To Brown, the character of Fiona can be a rollercoaster of emotions.
“She’ll have her stereotypical princess moments…what she’s been learning in the fairy tale books that she’s been reading for the past twenty years while she’s been stuck in the tower, so that’s all she knows to go off of,” Brown said.
The character shifts back and forth between who she really is and what she thinks she should be. While Brown isn’t similar to Fiona when it comes to wavering, she knows how difficult it can be to find your own path.
Although Brown never had some ‘eureka’ moment about when she decided she wanted to perform on stage, music and musical theatre were always constants in her life.
Both of her parents are fans of theatre and made sure the medium was always available to Brown, whether by going to shows or helping local productions.
“It’s just always been a part of my life,” Brown says.
Still, when Brown went to college she wasn’t sure if the theatre route was right for her. Brown started off at the University of Wisconsin Stout, studying apparel design.
While she enjoyed her time at Stout, Brown’s family could tell that it wasn’t the right fit for her.
“My whole family was, like, ‘why aren’t you doing theatre?’” Brown said. “They all knew that I was going to switch over to theatre eventually.”
Even with her family’s support, Brown had her own fears to overcome.
“I guess at that point in my life I wasn’t so sure that I was cut out for it, I didn’t think that I would succeed in that field, so I just pushed it to the side,” Brown said.
Still, the stage and the music called to Brown, but more than that, she missed the comradery.
“That group of friends that you get so close with, because you’re working in close proximity,” Brown said, “In theatre you find that family.”
More so than just with cast mates, Brown says that the professors have an especially invested interest in what their students are learning.
“The relationships that you build with the professors are really great, because they do care,” Brown said, “They’re producing, directing the shows. They’re teaching the kids what they would want to see, what they would want students to deliver.”
One of the ways that the director influences the production is by giving the cast notes. Notes are, like their name implies, pieces of advice and direction.
Brown admits that initially this practice can be intimidating.
“I used to be like, ‘Oh gosh, I’m getting so many notes, because I suck,’ but you can’t think that way,” Brown said. “You’ve gotta be like, ‘Oh I’m getting so many notes because they care and they see that I can do better.’”
While Brown has gotten her fair share of notes for “Shrek,” MSUM taught her to take them as constructive tools to improve her performance and her interpretation of the character.
During her time at MSUM Brown was able to fill many roles. She was an ingénue, a leading lady and a hot mama, along with everything in between.
The variety of roles she was able to take on during her time at MSUM makes her feels as though she’s prepared to take on any role, or at least that she has the tools to take on any role.
“The professors really teach you to dig deep into your character and really analyze your character… think about how they would react, how they would think, what their personality is like,” Brown said.
Besides working on the world of your character, Brown said that one of the most important lessons for a student is to take initiative.
“You really can’t expect for things to fall in your lap – you have to go after it if you really want it,” Brown said.
During Brown’s senior year, she realized that she had missed out on taking a tap class, as the last time it had been offered was while she was on Eurospring. Understanding that this was an important skill to have, she reached out to one of her professors, Craig Ellingson, for independent lessons.
“We have some real go-getters, like Anne,” Ellingson said. “She took it upon herself to go, ‘I know this is an area that I am less comfortable with,’ so she sought out an answer.”
Ellingson was able to get Brown comfortable with the basics of tap, which proved to be instrumental in her audition for “Shrek,” as the play features a big tap number.
While Brown and Ellingson both stress that this an option for students, as long as they’re proactive about seeking out their professors, Brown said that school isn’t the only option.
“Don’t let yourself be limited by even the classes that are being offered… There are so many resources within the Fargo-Moorhead area… you can pick up a class or two and learn a whole new genre of dance,” Brown said.
Brown and Ellingson both agree that students shouldn’t allow themselves to be limited by their major either.
“Any student who is going out into the world of business, the world of education—just into the world, it is important to be seen and to be heard,” Ellingson said. “That ability to be comfortable with who you are and have that resonate…can come through in scene work, monologue work, movement work.”
Brown also believes that theatre classes have helped to shape her even outside of the theater.
“It does help with social skills, with memorization—that’s a really big thing for me, people will tell me I need to learn something and I’ll be like, no problem,” Brown says.
After having a week to remember the lines for a show, memorizing how make the various drinks for her day job as a barista doesn’t seem as overwhelming as it once might have.
“Responsibility is another big thing, when you have to be responsible for learning your lines, your blocking, all of your dances, all of the songs—that kind of responsibility transfers over into your normal life,” Brown said.
While Brown is pleased with her work with “Shrek” and looks forward to her future in the theater, she understands how daunting theatre can be.
“I almost didn’t audition for ‘Shrek,’ because I was like, well I probably won’t get cast or even called back, I didn’t want to face the disappointment,” Brown said.
Still, Brown said, if being in theatre is something you want, you can’t give up.
“But I knew that MSUM had taught me to do the best in my audition… to know who the character is and how to show that,” Brown said.
So she auditioned, landed the role, and now she gets to deal with all that green paint.