13
Jan
13

VALE Bille Brown

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I’m shocked and so saddened to hear this news. I spoke with Bille recently, at Zen Zen Zo’s Therese Raquin, and I know he will be dearly missed by many.

 

Today the arts community lost a shining light – acclaimed Queensland actor Bille Brown has passed away, after losing his battle with cancer. He was a distinguished individual and a superb actor, forging the way for so many and most certainly putting Queensland on the map.

 

Amongst the ranks of Geoffrey Rush (his dear friend, who was by his side this week), Deborah Mailman, and QTC’s Artistic Director Wesley Enoch, Bille Brown got his start through QTC’s Theatre Residency week at 18 years of age.

 

His work with the Company spanned four decades, following his first mainstage production in 1971, Wrong Side of the Moon. Clearly an audience favourite, QTC cast Bille in 29 productions and produced four of his own written works. In recognising his incredible contribution and support for the arts in Queensland, The Bille Brown Studio was officially opened on 5 July 2002 by the then Minister for Employment, Training and Youth and Minister for the Arts, Matt Foley.

 

The Bille Brown Studio today is home to QTC’s Greenhouse program, a space for emerging artists, new works, exciting ideas and constant debate – just how he would have wanted.

 

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QTC Artistic Director Wesley Enoch said this was a time to remember and give support to each other. “The artistic community of Queensland and Australia has lost a true gentleman. We are part of Bille’s legacy,” he said.

 

“Every actor, playwright, director, stage manager, designer, musician and all the teams who work in theatre in Queensland owe Bille a huge debt. He brought a sense of adventure, love and respect. His talent and love survives in us all.”

 

Paul Dellit has written a beautiful obituary.

 

[obituary]

 

VALE: BILLE BROWN, AM – Actor / Director / Playwright (b. Bioela, Queensland Australia, 11 January 1952 – d. 13 January 2013, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)

 

Often referred to as ‘The Boy From Biloela,’ Australian stage, film and television actor and acclaimed playwright Bille Brown passed away peacefully on Sunday 13 January 2013 after a short illness, aged 61, in a hospital on Brisbane’s northside. He had been ill for some time but refused to let on just how serious his condition was until recently.

Last Friday the 11th January, he quietly celebrated his 61st birthday surrounded by family and a few close colleagues which included Geoffrey Rush and Bryan Nason.

William “Bille” Brown was born in Biloela, Queensland in 1952. Though he wanted to be a painter he became an actor. Bille Brown studied drama at the University of Queensland. He then began his career in the early 1970s at Queensland Theatre Company, working alongside actors Geoffrey Rush and Carol Burns, under Artistic Director, Alan Edwards.

Bille’s career took him abroad to Britain, where he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and was the first Australian commissioned to write and perform in their own play – The Swan Down Gloves. The show opened the Barbican Theatre (RSC’s Home theatre from 1982–2002) and had a Royal Command Performance. As a member of the RSC (between 1976–1982, 1986–88 and 1994–96) Brown toured with their productions throughout Europe, playing Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Munich. He also appeared in the RSC’s premiere production of The Wizard of Oz in the gender-bending roles of The Wicked Witch of the West and Miss Gulch.

While working in the United Kingdom, Brown also performed in the West End, at the Aldwych and Haymarket Theatres, the Chichester Festival Theatre, English National Opera and Dublin Theatre Festival. While performing onstage at Stratford he was spotted by John Cleese, who cast him in Fierce Creatures, the sequel to A Fish Called Wanda.

In New York City, Brown made his Broadway debut as an actor in 1986 in Michael Frayn’s Wild Honey with Ian McKellen, directed by Christopher Morahan, and as a playwright with his adaptation of a benefit performance of A Christmas Carol in 1985, featuring Helen Hayes, Len Cariou as Scrooge, MacIntyre Dixon, Celeste Holm, Raul Julia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Harold Scott, Carole Shelley, and Fritz Weaver, directed by W. Stuart McDowell. He was also an Artist-in-residence at the State University of New York in 1982, and was a visiting Professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Bille Brown returned to Australia to live permanently in 1996. He has had an outstanding career on stage and has performed for many leading Australian theatre companies including Queensland Theatre Company (QTC), Sydney Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare Company, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, Company B, State Theatre Company of South Australia, Marian St Theatre, La Boite Theatre Company and the Old Tote Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. He also appeared regularly in various guises with Bryan Nason’s Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe.

During his years with the Queensland Theatre Company he appeared in 27 productions, and he played many Shakespearean roles, including: John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor; the title role of King Henry V in Henry V; and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.

During an open-air performance in the Albert Park Amphitheatre of a pre-World War 2 version of the Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing, Bille, in role of Benedick, commented to the audience (when an airliner flew over during his monologue), “Don’t worry, it’s one of ours, Alitalia!”.

In 1996 he directed the Australian stage production of Hugh Lunn’s popular novel Over the Top with Jim, for QPAC and the Brisbane Festival, which exceeded box office expectations. He had huge success with his role as Count Almaviva in Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro, with Geoffrey Rush and Robyn Nevin, which opened the new Playhouse at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) in Brisbane in September 1998. In 1999 he also had major success in Sydney and subsequently throughout Australia as Oscar Wilde in the Belvoir St production of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss.

The same year he accepted an offer to be Adjunct Professor in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at the University of Queensland, and has given workshops and master classes for drama students.

Bille directed John Cleese in his solo show John Cleese: His Lifetimes and Medical Problems, the operas Don Giovanni and Samson and Delilah and various Shakespeare and Moliere productions.

In 2009 Brown wrote and performed in Queensland Theatre Company’s The School of Arts. The play followed the story of the old ‘College Players’ who toured Shakespeare through Queensland in the late 1960s.

Bille’s other writing credits include the plays: Bill and Mary, Springle, tuff… and Aladdin for The Old Vic, which starred Sir Ian McKellan.

In April 2012, Bille Brown commanded the stage in Melbourne while inhabiting Bruscon, a clapped-out theatre maker and bully who, in the Malthouse Theatre production of The Histrionic, brutalises his wife and children. Brown received united critical acclaim for his role in Thomas Bernhard’s play The Histrionic directed by Daniel Schlusser, which had sell-out seasons in both Melbourne and Sydney.

He was the recipient of a 2009 Live Performance Australia Helpmann Award (Australia’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Awards) as Best Male Actor in A Musical for his role as King Arthur in the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot, which had it’s Australian premiere season in Melbourne.

Bille Brown has also appeared in movies, including: Fierce Creatures (1997), The Dish (2000), Oscar and Lucinda (1997) and Singularity (2012), Killer Elite (2011), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

Whilst some of his more memorable television credits were: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries ,Rake, Wild Boys, Hollowmen and White Collar Blue.

Bille Brown was recognised twice in the Australian Honours System. In 2001 he was granted the Centenary Medal “for distinguished service to the arts” and in the Australia Day Honours List 2011, Bille was named as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) “for service to the performing arts as an actor and playwright, and to education”.

In 2011, he also received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Queensland.

When the Queensland Theatre Company’s home venue opened at South Brisbane in 2002, they named their intimate 300-seat theatre space the Bille Brown Studio, in recognition of his enormous contribution to the Arts both in Queensland and abroad.

For the past few years Bille was the Industry Ambassador for the Actors’ & Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund of Queensland, a role he cherished.

Bille Brown’s legacy to the arts was enormous, and he will be remembered not only for his talent and the variety of roles and mediums he conquered, but also for his generosity in nurturing and mentoring younger performers all around Australia.

(Paul Dellit, President, Actors’ & Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund (Qld) Inc.)

 

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