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Living in a world of pure imagination through the arts

Arts and EntertainmentLiving in a world of pure imagination through the arts

Glenn Brown first got his start in the world of theatre after a friend dared him to try out for a play. Years later, and he’s been the General Manager of the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts for nearly 17 years.

“I tended to be the sarcastic, wisecracking person and someone I worked with in high school said, ‘you really need to be in theatre, you need to audition for a play,’ and so I auditioned with Theatre Brantford,” recalled Brown.

After graduating secondary school, Brown jumped feet first into the world of theatre doing summer shows and touring around Ontario.  

“I kept my hand in acting for a few years, but quickly felt like I was at a plateau in terms of my abilities as an actor,” he said. “To stay involved, I moved into the tech side and started stage managing and doing lighting, and I did them in parallel for a number of years.”

In the fall of 1986, Brown found himself working at the now Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts.

“I was here when it was still the Capitol Theatre, so I was here on the first day that the City took possession of it and started to convert it back to a live performing arts theatre,” he said. “One of my first directors from that role in high school, ended up being hired by the City to do the restoration work and when that opportunity came along, he said, ‘Glenn, I need you to help me’ and he pulled me in.”

From there he began working backstage before working his way up into the role of head electrician for lighting.

“After that, I eventually became the technical director before moving into administration,” he said.

Glenn Brown, General Manager of the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, poses for a photo on Monday, December 18, 2023.

Brown eventually took the role of General Manager in 2007 and has been hard at work shaping the theatre’s countless seasons.

“What I do is probably a little different than in a lot of other theatres comparable to us. I’m kind of the front-end person, so I manage the calendar and I also deal with all the rental demands that come in, because we have a lot of commercial and local theatres, and even schools who rent the stage throughout the year,” he said. “And then I kind of fill in the blanks with my presenting and curating hat. The season that we produce, it’s a full series of about 30 to 35 shows each year, so I select and negotiate those. So, working with colleagues throughout Ontario to try to make some of those things happen, is a big part of my job as well.”

He said that picking a line up for the season isn’t as easy as it seems.

“When I was asked to step in as the manager, it was weird because I felt like I had been around it enough and that I could do it all, but the only thing I was really worried about was the presenting and choosing which shows to do, negotiating them and turning that into reality,” he said. “My goal is to serve this entire community, and I am not the entire community, so what I like is not necessarily what’s going to connect with others. So, I think, trying to adjust for those blind spots is probably the most important thing. It may have been one thing I was really nervous about, but it turns out that that’s the thing that is the most rewarding now because it’s this opportunity to do things for a lot of people.”

Not only does Brown organize events and performances, but he also has to work to help maintain the 104-year-old building.

“One of the core things we’re doing here is, this is a heritage building, so we’re making sure that it’s treated well and that it’s kept up,” he said. “There’s all the infrastructure and capital work that needs to be done to preserve this century old vaudeville theatre and it’s pretty substantial to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the day-to-day.”

He said that one of the special things about the theatre is that it has a way of grabbing people’s attention.

“One of the best things is when we have schools here and the kids who have never been here before, will often stop at the doors and stare at the beauty of the place,” he said. “It’s this beautiful, sculpted plaster and it’s painted so everything is back to its original 1919 appearance. It’s really almost like a beautiful shrine to performing arts and it’s an incredible resource and treasure in the downtown.”

The stage in the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts sits empty as it awaits its next performance.

Brown noted that it’s not just the visitors who are wowed by the presence of the theatre, but the performers too.

“The Sanderson Centre Foundation does a lot of fundraising for us, and they put out a book for our centennial and they were able to get Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo to write the forward for the book,” said Brown. “In that, he talks about being on stage and just imagining all the people who had performed before him and trying to live up to that and to live up to the room itself in his performance. I think that happens to a lot of performers when they get on the stage.”

He said when it comes down to working in theatre, it’s the thrill of a live performance that can often has people coming back for more.

“I think we all have different feelings about it, but for me, I think it’s this idea that everything is focused on the performance. Everything that happens beforehand, and everything that happens afterwards is just for that short period of time when you get to connect to an audience,” he said. “It’s that feeling of you’ve done all this preparation, and still things will happen, and you will need to adapt and you will need to be thinking on your feet. There’s just an adrenaline piece to that that I think really connects with a lot of people.”

Brown made it clear that the world of theatre is a special place, one that teaches and shapes people.

“I think the long hours, the tight deadlines and the absolute finish point of: okay, the show is starting… it really teaches you the value of respect and courtesy with the people you’re working with, in spite of whatever stresses are happening,” he said. “That back and forth is really rewarding because it’s never completely the same.”

When talking about his proudest moments over the years, he said it’s all about achieving the end goal.

“The thing that has meant the most, has been working on a show and achieving it, you know? When everything’s down, everything’s in the truck, the doors are closed, and we’re done,” he said. “Being able to share in that victory with everybody else is probably the thing that emotionally connects me backstage. And of course, there’s also been some incredible performances that you just get to experience and know that you had a part in bringing that to people.”

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