Star research

From the time she was president of the drama guild at Great Valley High School in Malvern, Amy Dugas Brown knew she wanted a career in theater.

For a while, she thought it would be in acting and, in fact, spent six years in New York City taking various stage roles — until she realized her true role was behind the scenes.

"I enjoy acting, but I’m such a workaholic that I’d rather be in the theater all the time," says the Queen Village resident.

At the Arden Theatre in Old City, she’s found the ideal outlet.

As associate artistic director, Brown, 32, wears many hats: She’s director of casting, head of all educational programs, co-producer of new play workshops and co-manager of the apprentice program.

She’s also a creative innovator who has launched several highly successful programs during her four years at the Arden.

One of Brown’s most recent — and difficult — challenges was finding a suitable cast for the Arden’s current production, Stephen Sondheim’s musical Pacific Overtures.

A cast of only 12 male actors takes on more than 60 roles, including 10 female roles. Brown was seeking highly talented actors to play the multiethnic parts in the play, which focuses on Commodore Matthew Perry’s efforts to westernize Japan in the mid-19th century.

In the end, Brown achieved her goal. The cast is comprised of white, black, Asian and Latino actors. But finding the right performers involved an extensive talent search.

There were many rounds of auditions, not only in Philadelphia but in New York. Before the New York auditions, Brown put out a call to talent agencies, and the applications poured in: She estimates that she looked at 500 r�sum�s and head shots of actors. Then came two days of auditions for the 120 finalists, and then additional auditions for the lucky ones who were called back a second time.

The resourceful casting director also went to the Web site of the Flower Drum Song, which was then on Broadway, thinking that would be a good source to find Asian actors.

One of them, Rich Ceraulo, was offered a role. Because his Broadway show was closing, he was available for the Philadelphia run of Pacific Overtures.

Brown and Terrence J. Nolen also attended an off-Broadway performance of the Pan-Asian Repertory Company, where they especially noticed actor Arthur Acuna. "We loved his performance and invited him to audition the very next day," she says. And after the audition, he was offered a role.

Finally, all 12 actors were chosen, plus 12 understudies. Brown’s role as casting director was over, but not her role in getting Pacific Overtures ready for production.

Brown attended all the run-throughs of the production during the last two weeks of rehearsals, taking notes so that she could later discuss details with director Nolen.

"If a scene was unclear, if a prop seemed awkward, I made note of it," she says.

The critique got even more intense during "tech week," when all the technical details were put into place. The marathon rehearsals often lasted 10 hours during this final phase before the previews began.

Brown was in the audience for previews, which began May 22. Again, she took notes and watched attentively. "This is the first time we see the play presented to an audience, and so it’s very important to see their reaction," she says. "We make changes right up to opening night."

On the big night, May 27, Brown’s reaction, as she says it always does, ranged "from nervous to very pleased and excited."

Brown started preparing for a stage career at Barnard College, where she majored in theater. She remained in New York for six years after graduation, doing freelance script reading and performing onstage "anywhere I could."

But now she’s happy to be part of the Philadelphia theater scene. "It’s such a vital community, and it’s all about the work," says Brown.

There is no shortage of work for her at the Arden Theatre. Besides serving as casting director and then all-around consultant for every production, she’s also in charge of the Arden’s varied educational programs for both youngsters and adults.

She introduced a course this past March titled "Express Yourself," based on her own idea.

"It’s for non-theater professionals interested in becoming more comfortable with public-speaking situations such as meetings and presentations," she explains.

Another of Brown’s innovations, the Salon Series, is "based on the European tradition of sitting around having interesting discussions about the arts," she says.

The Arden’s version of the salon included 90-minute guided discussions, complete with wine and hors d’oeuvres. Brown invited theater artists to lead the forums. For instance, for one program, she invited the set, sound and costume designers working on Pacific Overtures to discuss their craft.

"The audience asked lots of questions and it led to wonderful discussions," says Brown. "It brings the audience and the artists much closer."

The program has been so successful that she’s planning 14 salons for next season.

Young actors and theatergoers also benefit from the Arden’s programs. The company produces two full-scale children’s theater productions each season and also holds acting classes for youngsters. Brown is in charge of it all.

She even teaches a course for first- and second-graders. The eight-week Saturday sessions are called "Story Crafters."

The youngsters start by doing acting warm-ups, then read a story. The kids are let loose to choose costumes and props for acting out the story, using five bins that Brown lugs in.

"They go wild," she says, describing how the kids dash over to the bins and go through the fancy accessories. Then, when the costumes and props are chosen, they read the story again — this time acting it out.

Still another of Brown’s varied activities is co-producing the Arden’s New Play Workshops. The program includes one world premiere per season.

And then there’s the apprentice program, for which Brown is co-manager.

"They work in every corner of the theater — box office, grant writing, auditions and more," says Brown, who meets with the six apprentices weekly. "We’re training the future theater leaders of America,"

Because she’s so busy at the theater, Brown looks forward to relaxing at home in Queen Village, where she lives with her boyfriend, actor Ben Dibble.

"We love the sense of community, of having so many like-minded people who are supportive of the arts," she says.

Brown has a new interest outside of the arts: She’s recently become a Big Sister volunteer and was matched with a Little Sister who lives in South Philly.

Brown doesn’t mind staying busy. She says her time at the Arden has only intensified her love of the theater.

"Our mission is to tell great stories," she says, "and that’s what theater is all about."

The Arden Theatre Company’s production of Pacific Overtures runs through June 22 on the F. Otto Haas Stage at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St. Tickets ($22-$36) are available at the Arden box office or by calling 215-922-1122 or online at