r By James L. Davis
For some, a love for the Arts is a sweet infection. Once bitten, it courses through your blood forever. Such is the case for Bill and Marilyn Brown. They are incurably, blissfully, infected.
The Springville couple passed on their love for the Arts through the Villa Playhouse, Little Brown Theatre and Brownhouse Gallery/Studio. Each of their endeavors were labors of love and the reward was watching the spark ignite in hundreds of young people who took part in their community theatre productions over the years.
“Seeing those kids develop like they did made it all worthwhile,” Bill said.
Bill was bitten by a love for the Arts as a teenager himself. As a senior at Provo High School in 1959, the school drama teacher cast him as Jonathan in Arsenic and Old Lace, and that was all it took.
“I loved it so much I decided to pursue a degree in theatre,” he said.
Upon high school graduation, he did just that. He enrolled at Brigham Young University in 1960 to pursue his degree. As often happens in life, fate intervened, and for Bill, it came in the form of love. He married in 1961 and soon had a family to raise, so went to work as a realtor and eventually opened Bill Brown Realty.
His love for the Arts never diminished and in time would manifest itself in ways that perhaps even surprised him. In 1975, as a widower with five children, he married Marilyn McMeen, who had one daughter. With a simple “I Do” the two became a family of eight and life became a drama all itself.
“It was a partnership. A fun rollercoaster,” Marilyn said.
The husband and wife discovered they had many things in common, but when it comes to a love of the Arts in all its many forms, Marilyn said it was Bill who infected her.
“Bill bit me,” she said with a laugh.
Which isn’t entirely true. Marilyn, a playwright and novelist, was already devoted to the Arts before she married Bill. Together, that love grew to new heights.
In 1994 George Nelson, a professor at BYU’s Theatre Art Studies, cast Bill as a lead in a play and asked him why he hadn’t continued his pursuit of a degree. So, he did, and graduated with a degree in Theatre and Media Arts eight years later, at the age of 60. He graduated in 2002 and was the oldest graduate that year.
Becoming a college student again perhaps spurred even more devotion to the Arts. The couple established the Villa Playhouse in 1996 and Bill said it was his workshop as he pursued his degree. Together, they went on to establish the Little Brown Theatre and Brownhouse Gallery/Studio.
The couple dipped their fingers into every form of the Arts, from drama to the written word. As they developed their theatres and gallery, they produced plays, musicals, novels, art, built sets, created costumes, and fostered a love of the Arts in everyone they met. Through it all they stored up memories to span several lifetimes.
“We love the interaction with the community,” Marilyn said. “Being able to write the music and words and to see people perform with their beautiful voices and bring to life what I imagined. I said, well, I can die now.”
Along the way, they raised their six children and today their family has grown to include 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
As is the case in any great story, tragedy struck when least expected. Bill suffered a heart attack that was all but debilitating. They sold the Villa Playhouse in 2004 and the Little Brown Theatre closed in 2005. It took years for Bill to regain his strength, but their combined love of the Arts still boiled.
After 52 years as a realtor, Bill retired in 2016 and sold his business to one of his sons. In the fall of 2017, the Brownhouse Gallery/Studio was gutted by fire and their story might have very well ended as a tragedy.
And then came the plot twist.
On March 10, Bill and Marilyn Brown were honored by the SCERA Center for the Arts for Lifetime Achievement in support of the Arts.
With family and friends gathered, they were recognized for their love and devotion to the Arts and the many people they touched over the years. To say that it was a humbling experience, is perhaps an understatement.
“It was one of the highlights of our life,” Bill said.
Recognition for lifetime achievement might be the end of the play in many circumstances, but Bill and Marilyn are quick to point out that this is not their final act.
Marilyn, with 17 published novels and another due in the coming months, says she has a few more in her head, and more are likely to follow.
Bill still performs whenever a part comes his way. “Parts for someone my age are hard to come by, but occasionally they need an old man,” he said.
And as for the Brownhouse Gallery/Studio on Main Street in Springville, it is being rebuilt and the couple hopes to have it reopen in August.
“We’ll be doing this until we’re no longer here,” Bill said.