A big name in theatre is working with Bard to Broadway this summer season in Qualicum Beach.
Norman Browning has had an illustrious theatre career around the country, and he’s also made film and television appearances. He’s been a mainstay at the Shaw Festival in Ontario for 22 seasons, he has performed in 36 productions for the Arts Club in Vancouver and 16 with the Vancouver Playhouse until it closed last year. He’s had roles in the TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy and worked with the late Corey Haim in the film Watchers.
Browning is directing Sexy Laundry for Bard to Broadway and is also working with the cast from B2B’s other two plays this season, The Drowsy Chaperone and Little Women.
Browning was born and raised in Vancouver and became hooked on theatre in high school. He went to Simon Fraser University in its inaugural year looking to pursue a career in law, and noticed the shiny, brand new theatre.
“I thought, I should audition. It was A Man For All Seasons and I got the part of Cromwell (the lead role),” he said. “And the next thing you know I’m in the next play.”
Browning left university for a couple years and when he returned there was a professor of drama by the name of John Juliani. Browning became his lead male actor. In 1969, there was turmoil on campus with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement going on, he said, and a number of professors were dismissed. Juliani quit his position at SFU and Browning found himself marching and protesting in support of his professors.
“I thought, to hell with this, and I followed this director and we formed a company and did plays on the street. We did them in cafes (and) at the art gallery.”
Browning began to get gigs with the Playhouse Theatre company, but before too long he said he was blacklisted for not joining the Actors’ Equity Association, which was at the time, an American-run association. He wanted little to do with American enterprises, he said, so he took off “in a hippy-state-of-mind” with his first wife to Grand Forks where he lived in a Doukhobor commune for about eight years.
Once Equity became a Canadian association he went back to Vancouver and resumed his acting career. A director from the well-known Stratford Festival in Ontario selected him for a show while in Vancouver in 1980, and Browning headed off to work with the likes of Maggie Smith, Brian Bedford and Bill Hut.
“I had never seen this kind of theatre before,” he said. “And that’s in no way denigrating what I had done or seen in Vancouver, it’s just that it was Maggie Smith for chrissakes.”
Following that stint he did a number of shows in Vancouver and across Canada, including the Shaw Festival located at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It was there he met his current wife Laurie Paton.
“I swore I’d never marry an actress. I changed my mind. The most extraordinary woman came into my life at Shaw, and we fell in love.”
But life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. In 2003 Browning was in the emergency ward with spleen failure when he “died a couple of times.” Literally.
He remembers being in excruciating pain and suddenly, it went away. He could feel all the turmoil of the room for a fleeting moment while he watched in peace, he said, and then he was back on the table, fighting for his life.
But he recovered, and although he missed most of that acting season, he was able to come back and perform in the season closer.
These days, Browning and Paton split their time between their apartment in Vancouver and their home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, depending on where they have work.
Paton’s parents lived in Qualicum Beach for many years and her sister and brother-in-law are also in the area and involved in Bard to Broadway.
Browning and Paton have been spending winters in Qualicum Beach for years, and this year, Browning was invited to work with Bard to Broadway.
He picked two incredible actors to play the two roles in Sexy Laundry, he said, and it’s been quite a journey working with them. The actors are Rosalee Sullivan as Alice Lane and Dave Bigelow as Henry Lane and they pull their parts off like nobody’s business, Browning said.
“I’m not blowing smoke here, I cannot say enough about these people.”
The play, written by Canadian playwright Michele Riml, surrounds a middle aged couple looking to rekindle passion in their 25-year-old relationship.
Sexy Laundry opens July 3 and runs to August 13 at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach. Tickets for the first three performances are $17 for seniors and students and $19 for adults. After July 15 tickets go up $3. For information call 250-752-4470 or visit www.b2btheatre.com.
CONTEST: Win two tickets to see Sexy Laundry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with Send Me to Sexy Laundry in the subject line for your chance to win. Include your name and phone number. Draw will be done July 2.