Spending hours pushing boundaries with a room full of theater students is a teacher’s challenge, and Western Associate Professor Rich Brown is one of the best theater teachers in the entire state — according to the prestigious award he’s just won. He’s been selected as the 2015 Washington State Professor of the Year.
The award is produced by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. It’s given to professors for being so dedicated and passionate they stand out exceptionally in the lives and careers of their students.
Brown said he was honored just to be nominated, and wasn’t expecting it when his award letter finally came, summoning him to Washington D.C. to accept it.
“[The letter] said ‘congratulations,’” he said. “I thought how incredibly fortunate I am to get to come work with [these students] every day. It’s phenomenal to me that I get paid to do what I want to, and I know how extremely rare and extremely lucky that is.”
His students agree he deserved to be called the professor of the year. Junior Rebecca Cort, a theatre major, has known him for seven months.
“[The award] is so well deserved,” she said. “He just pours passion into other people. It’s a minuscule payment for what he has given us.”
Another student, senior Sarah Lavender, has taken several of Brown’s classes.
“We are so privileged to have [Brown] teaching here because he introduces forms and styles of acting that many universities never get to see,” Lavender said in an email. “His teaching style is incredible. … It’s almost like he has a sixth sense, the ability to affect anyone who chooses to listen.”
Cort recalls her favorite memory working with Brown on a show called “/faust: A Devised Piece.”
“/faust was an incredibly physically and emotionally demanding show,” Cort said.
Cort and the other actors had to sprint and constantly move across the stage, but were put to the test when they were scheduled to have two shows in one day. Before the first show Brown came and spoke to the actors.
Brown told the students to still give absolutely everything they had to the performance because the audience deserved to get the same show.
He told the actors to understand when they are creating and sharing their art, they’ll always have enough to give and never tire out — and that message has stayed with Cort ever since.
Brown teaches about the validness of having emotions, she said. Anger, sadness and jealousy are all acceptable emotions to have, though this lesson was difficult for Cort to accept at first, she said.
“I was very emotionally healthy that quarter [I took with Brown],” she said. “He truly believes that no emotion is a bad emotion. Acting is a lot about feeling something, and instead of pushing it away, respecting it and valuing it — I think people need to do that more.”
Cort will be a teacher’s assistant for Brown’s theatre 264 class next quarter. The course is considered one of the department’s life-changing classes, not only increasing students’ skills but also working to improving their day-to-day lives, Cort said in an email.
“On the first day of class, Rich said ‘acting is whatever. What I want is for this class to make you better people. If that happens, we have succeeded,’” Cort said.
Brown has worked at Western for nine years and accepted his award on Nov.19, in Washington D.C., along with the four national winners and 35 state winners.