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Sometimes, the Best Man For the role is a Woman

By Hallie Z. Levine

When Richard Nash-Siedlecki '92-'93 got married last summer, he made sure to include Winsome S.M. Brown '95 in the wedding party--as the groomsman.

Sporting tails and a mane of auburn hair, Brown maneuvered through the ceremonies with aplomb, carrying off the role with her typical ebullient charm.

"This was still a wedding in the Catholic Church, and obviously had to be very dignified," Nash-Siedlecki explains. "Still, we realized that this was something Winsome could carry off."

Nash-Siedlecki is no stranger to Brown's theatrical talents. He first became aware of her abilities when he watched her play the male character Edmund her first year in Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey into Night; since then, he has directed her many times.

"I generally find cross-casting very tiresome, campy and uninteresting," Nash-Siedlecki confesses, "but there was something honest about the way Winsome played Edmund. She wasn't trying to do anything but play the part. Her focus was what made her so effective."

Whether it be her debut her freshman year in Salome, or her more recent finale as Oscar Wilde himself in her recent one-woman show, The Importance of Being Oscar, the award-winning actress has garnered a reputation for herself as one of Harvard-Radcliffe's most talented performers.

Winsome is one of the very few young talented actresses in this school," says Tanya S.J. Selvaratnam '93, who performed with her in several plays, including Jet of Blood and Skin and Bone during Brown's first year. "She's someone I would expect will do exciting things in the future with her acting. When I see Winsome act, it hits me in the womb--She's a natural."

Known on campus for her Irish-accented voice and gap-toothed grin, the Harvard senior has received many awards for her acting. Her first year, she was the recipient of the Independent's distinguished 1992 Newcomer of the Year award. Her Junior year, she won the David Mason Little Award, given annually to a promising Adams House junior who exemplifies the character of the house. And this past year, she was awarded the Jonathan Levy Prize, which is presented to the mosttalented actor on campus.

Next year, she will have a chance to showcaseher talents in the visual media, working for fX,the cable division of Fox T.V.

Still, brown remains modest about heraccomplishments. For her, acting is not just ameans of expressing herself; it is her way ofbringing more beauty into the world and making ita better place.

"There's a line from The Importance of BeingOscar," she says, "When Wilde, while inprison, writes his friend Lord Alfred Douglas totell him that their friendship was base, becauseit wasn't founded on the creation andcontemplation of beauty." As an actor, you'reideally creating and contemplating--and causingthe audience to contemplate--beauty."

Brown's activities are not limited to thestage. She served as vice president of the SignetSociety, Harvard's society of arts and letters,performing dramatic readings in the same roomswhere T.S. Eliot '10, George Plimpton '48 and JohnUpdike '54 once gathered. More recently, she won aprestigious Hoopes Prize for her senior thesis inEnglish and American Literature, which focused onthe political columnist William Safire.

"I originally wanted to write on the effects ofmedia and technology on writing," says Brown, "butit was far too grand. So I switched to essayists,and wanted to write on someone who handn't beeninvestigated. Safire, who considers himself both ajournalist and an essayist, seemed to be aninteresting choice."

Much of Brown's thesis centered around a closeanalysis of Safire's work, examining how hisphilosophy of independent responsibility wasrepresented through the careful construction ofhis words.

"It [the thesis] was grounded in Safire'stexts, " she says. "it was based on the idea thatwhen one says something, the words represent oneto the world, and one must therefore be carefulabout what one says, and deliberately mean it."

Thesis aside, Brown has made her presence feltin the academic community. Her theatricalendeavors have extended to the classroom, whereshe often has impressed professors with both herintellect and dramatic talents.

"Winsome has a real sense of intellectualmerriment," says Professor of English and AmericanLiterature Elaine Scarry, who taught Brown in twocourses, English 188, "Political Theatre and theStructure of Drama," and a graduate-level seminar,"On Beauty."

"She feels a kind of palpable pleasure for thetexts that is very striking," Scarry says.

During Scarry's class one semester, Brown gavea reading from a play titled Miss Margarida'sWay, adopting the person of a tyrannicalteacher. When a professor in the classroom next tothem began banging on the door in anger, Brownmerely incorporated the situation into herperformance. Flying to the door, she proceeded togive the startled professor a verbaltongue-lashing for daring to interrupt the class.

"Winsome's gift of improvisation," says Scarry,"Is truly a sign of her ability to be a greatactress."

while Brown is widely respected and admired,both in academic and dramatic circles, she hasalso made headlines on campus for some of herother theatrical antics.

Her junior year, she stunned the directors ofthe Hasty Pudding show by going to auditionsdressed up in costume under the pseudonym NicholasPettibone.

The producers of the Pudding show, an annualall-male theatrical event famous for itshairy-legged kick lines and booming male voices,were not quite sure what to make of the situation.

"They took me outside, and said to me that Icouldn't do this," Brown recollects, laughing."Finally, they let me audition. I sang the songWhite Christmas."

Although the media--including TheCrimson--played up the event, Brown denies anyhidden agenda or desire to make a feministstatement.

"I wanted to be in a musical," she says, "and Ihave a low voice! I wasn't sure if the Pudding wasmeant to be a drag show or a male show, but in anyevent, it certainly was not to make any greatstatement...I was really just looking to be in thePudding."

Brown nevertheless has won positive reviewson-campus for her portrayal of both male andfemale characters, ranging from her first-yearperformance as the title role in The Visit ofthe Old Lady, her junior year Characterizationof the murderess Charlotte Corday inMarat/Sade, to her more recent incarnationas Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Oscarthis past fall.

"Playing a male is no different than playing awoman who you are not," she says. "For me, actinghas to do with bringing beauty out, and more oftenthan not, it's the male characters who get to saythe more profound things. It's not that I'mdeliberately trying to be cross-gendered; it'sthat I would like to say these lines because Isympathize with them."

Brown won acclaim for her portrayal of Wilde,the brilliant playwright, essayist, and novelistwhose life she captured in her adaptation ofMichael MacLiammoir's play this past fall. Withstage props consisting of whiskey, cigarettes, anda callalily, Brown created an atmosphere that ,according to a review in the Independent, servedas "the perfect platform."

"She engages the audience with her mimicry ofVictorian Characters," the reviewer wrote. "Sheeven catches the candid quips of Wildehimself--popping up with punch lines likemesmerizing bubbles of absinthe...It is a creditto Brown that she maintains the composure andenergy necessary to capture a figure as enigmaticas Wilde."

Brown herself credits much of her success, bothon-stage and off, to her family. Born and raisedin Toronto by an Irish mother and American father,she remains close to her parents and to herbrother, Nicholas, and sister, Victoria, both ofwhom are 20.

"Inspiration comes in moments of red wine andpoetry," Brown muses, "but the actual productionand the actual process of getting things done iscentered around the incredible and meaningfulsupport of family and close friends."

Brown, Known affectionately as"Winnie-some-Bum" within her family, has amazedrelatives with a continuing string of successesdating back to adolescence.

"I most admire her perseverance," Nicholassays. "She battles through anything--if she setsher mind on something, you can bet she'll get it."

He particularly remembers a time when Winsomebet their father that, even though it was only hersecond time debating , she would win the regionaltournament. True to her prediction, she won.

"Most everything she's striven for, she'sgotten," Nicholas adds. "At university, forexample, every single play she's wanted to getinto, she's got. She's wanted to get into, she'sgot. She's never had one loss."

Yet Brown herself believes she has had oneloss, or, at least, one experience with failure.She deferred Harvard for a year, opting instead tolive at home and try her hand at writing Butinstead of brandishing her pen, she found herself"busy having lunch with Mum, reading books, andcooking." She ultimately went to France thatSpring to spend a semester studying in Cognac.

The experience for Brown turned out to be apositive one coming as it did after a series ofsuccesses in high school." I found out early inlife what it was like to fail," she saysmatter-of-factly. "It was a very human experience,and very good for coming to Harvard--I couldappreciate the privilege of being in a universitysetting."

Still, family and friends reject the notionthat Brown could ever fail, citing not only herprodigious talents as both an academic and anactor, but also, her compassionate personality.

"She has the ability to make people put theirguns down, convince them that she's worthy oftheir trust," says Mark Z. Sourian '95, a closefriend of Brown's for the past two years. "Itcomes across in her acting or even just in herreadings of poetry--her honest, genuine spirit. Ithink that in our culture, it's harder for a womanto be as funny as a man, yet Winsome is one of thefew women I know who truly manages to carry itoff."

Brown hopes to carry her sense of humor andflare for comedy into her professional life,eventually starting her own T.V. show. There, asshe describes it, "I can entertain, have a bit offun, and provide a bit of wisdom."

But she is also philosophical about what thefuture holds, stressing that her ultimate goal iswhat she has strived for throughout her collegeyears--"to try to figure out what good is, and tryto do it." And for more than just emotingmonologues from plays or lines from poems. Itmeans being with people.

"I read philosophy, literature and history,"she says, "and there's no doubt that all threehave deep meaning. But while it's sometimesalluring to live life according to books, I try todefine myself as someone who exists and tries todo good with what she's been given.

"It's the people around you who are your life,"she continues," And that's what I am, really--aperson of people.

Next year, she will have a chance to showcaseher talents in the visual media, working for fX,the cable division of Fox T.V.

Still, brown remains modest about heraccomplishments. For her, acting is not just ameans of expressing herself; it is her way ofbringing more beauty into the world and making ita better place.

"There's a line from The Importance of BeingOscar," she says, "When Wilde, while inprison, writes his friend Lord Alfred Douglas totell him that their friendship was base, becauseit wasn't founded on the creation andcontemplation of beauty." As an actor, you'reideally creating and contemplating--and causingthe audience to contemplate--beauty."

Brown's activities are not limited to thestage. She served as vice president of the SignetSociety, Harvard's society of arts and letters,performing dramatic readings in the same roomswhere T.S. Eliot '10, George Plimpton '48 and JohnUpdike '54 once gathered. More recently, she won aprestigious Hoopes Prize for her senior thesis inEnglish and American Literature, which focused onthe political columnist William Safire.

"I originally wanted to write on the effects ofmedia and technology on writing," says Brown, "butit was far too grand. So I switched to essayists,and wanted to write on someone who handn't beeninvestigated. Safire, who considers himself both ajournalist and an essayist, seemed to be aninteresting choice."

Much of Brown's thesis centered around a closeanalysis of Safire's work, examining how hisphilosophy of independent responsibility wasrepresented through the careful construction ofhis words.

"It [the thesis] was grounded in Safire'stexts, " she says. "it was based on the idea thatwhen one says something, the words represent oneto the world, and one must therefore be carefulabout what one says, and deliberately mean it."

Thesis aside, Brown has made her presence feltin the academic community. Her theatricalendeavors have extended to the classroom, whereshe often has impressed professors with both herintellect and dramatic talents.

"Winsome has a real sense of intellectualmerriment," says Professor of English and AmericanLiterature Elaine Scarry, who taught Brown in twocourses, English 188, "Political Theatre and theStructure of Drama," and a graduate-level seminar,"On Beauty."

"She feels a kind of palpable pleasure for thetexts that is very striking," Scarry says.

During Scarry's class one semester, Brown gavea reading from a play titled Miss Margarida'sWay, adopting the person of a tyrannicalteacher. When a professor in the classroom next tothem began banging on the door in anger, Brownmerely incorporated the situation into herperformance. Flying to the door, she proceeded togive the startled professor a verbaltongue-lashing for daring to interrupt the class.

"Winsome's gift of improvisation," says Scarry,"Is truly a sign of her ability to be a greatactress."

while Brown is widely respected and admired,both in academic and dramatic circles, she hasalso made headlines on campus for some of herother theatrical antics.

Her junior year, she stunned the directors ofthe Hasty Pudding show by going to auditionsdressed up in costume under the pseudonym NicholasPettibone.

The producers of the Pudding show, an annualall-male theatrical event famous for itshairy-legged kick lines and booming male voices,were not quite sure what to make of the situation.

"They took me outside, and said to me that Icouldn't do this," Brown recollects, laughing."Finally, they let me audition. I sang the songWhite Christmas."

Although the media--including TheCrimson--played up the event, Brown denies anyhidden agenda or desire to make a feministstatement.

"I wanted to be in a musical," she says, "and Ihave a low voice! I wasn't sure if the Pudding wasmeant to be a drag show or a male show, but in anyevent, it certainly was not to make any greatstatement...I was really just looking to be in thePudding."

Brown nevertheless has won positive reviewson-campus for her portrayal of both male andfemale characters, ranging from her first-yearperformance as the title role in The Visit ofthe Old Lady, her junior year Characterizationof the murderess Charlotte Corday inMarat/Sade, to her more recent incarnationas Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Oscarthis past fall.

"Playing a male is no different than playing awoman who you are not," she says. "For me, actinghas to do with bringing beauty out, and more oftenthan not, it's the male characters who get to saythe more profound things. It's not that I'mdeliberately trying to be cross-gendered; it'sthat I would like to say these lines because Isympathize with them."

Brown won acclaim for her portrayal of Wilde,the brilliant playwright, essayist, and novelistwhose life she captured in her adaptation ofMichael MacLiammoir's play this past fall. Withstage props consisting of whiskey, cigarettes, anda callalily, Brown created an atmosphere that ,according to a review in the Independent, servedas "the perfect platform."

"She engages the audience with her mimicry ofVictorian Characters," the reviewer wrote. "Sheeven catches the candid quips of Wildehimself--popping up with punch lines likemesmerizing bubbles of absinthe...It is a creditto Brown that she maintains the composure andenergy necessary to capture a figure as enigmaticas Wilde."

Brown herself credits much of her success, bothon-stage and off, to her family. Born and raisedin Toronto by an Irish mother and American father,she remains close to her parents and to herbrother, Nicholas, and sister, Victoria, both ofwhom are 20.

"Inspiration comes in moments of red wine andpoetry," Brown muses, "but the actual productionand the actual process of getting things done iscentered around the incredible and meaningfulsupport of family and close friends."

Brown, Known affectionately as"Winnie-some-Bum" within her family, has amazedrelatives with a continuing string of successesdating back to adolescence.

"I most admire her perseverance," Nicholassays. "She battles through anything--if she setsher mind on something, you can bet she'll get it."

He particularly remembers a time when Winsomebet their father that, even though it was only hersecond time debating , she would win the regionaltournament. True to her prediction, she won.

"Most everything she's striven for, she'sgotten," Nicholas adds. "At university, forexample, every single play she's wanted to getinto, she's got. She's wanted to get into, she'sgot. She's never had one loss."

Yet Brown herself believes she has had oneloss, or, at least, one experience with failure.She deferred Harvard for a year, opting instead tolive at home and try her hand at writing Butinstead of brandishing her pen, she found herself"busy having lunch with Mum, reading books, andcooking." She ultimately went to France thatSpring to spend a semester studying in Cognac.

The experience for Brown turned out to be apositive one coming as it did after a series ofsuccesses in high school." I found out early inlife what it was like to fail," she saysmatter-of-factly. "It was a very human experience,and very good for coming to Harvard--I couldappreciate the privilege of being in a universitysetting."

Still, family and friends reject the notionthat Brown could ever fail, citing not only herprodigious talents as both an academic and anactor, but also, her compassionate personality.

"She has the ability to make people put theirguns down, convince them that she's worthy oftheir trust," says Mark Z. Sourian '95, a closefriend of Brown's for the past two years. "Itcomes across in her acting or even just in herreadings of poetry--her honest, genuine spirit. Ithink that in our culture, it's harder for a womanto be as funny as a man, yet Winsome is one of thefew women I know who truly manages to carry itoff."

Brown hopes to carry her sense of humor andflare for comedy into her professional life,eventually starting her own T.V. show. There, asshe describes it, "I can entertain, have a bit offun, and provide a bit of wisdom."

But she is also philosophical about what thefuture holds, stressing that her ultimate goal iswhat she has strived for throughout her collegeyears--"to try to figure out what good is, and tryto do it." And for more than just emotingmonologues from plays or lines from poems. Itmeans being with people.

"I read philosophy, literature and history,"she says, "and there's no doubt that all threehave deep meaning. But while it's sometimesalluring to live life according to books, I try todefine myself as someone who exists and tries todo good with what she's been given.

"It's the people around you who are your life,"she continues," And that's what I am, really--aperson of people.

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