Professor Bille Brown at the opening ceremony of the VIII World
Shakespeare Congress, hosted by UQ in 2006
Professor Bille Brown at the opening ceremony of the VIII World Shakespeare Congress, hosted by UQ in 2006
6 August 2009

When Bille Brown was honoured at the 2009 Helpmann Awards at the Sydney Opera House recently, he was in fine company.

The theatre veteran and UQ Professor in Drama received the Best Actor in a Musical gong for his star turn in Monty Python’s Spamalot, joining the who’s who of the Australian performing arts industry.

Other awardees included Robyn Nevin, who was named best actress for her work in The Women of Troy and posthumous awards went to the former music director of Opera Australia, Richard Hickox, for Billy Budd, and to Rob Guest for his role as the wizard in Wicked.

Like the Tony Awards on Broadway and the Olivier Awards on London's West End, the Helpmanns recognise excellence across the performing arts in Australia.

First held in 2001, the awards are named for Robert Helpmann, the legendary Australian dancer, choreographer and theatre performer whose birth centenary is this year and whose achievements are celebrated in a new biography released by University of Queensland Press.

Professor Brown appeared at Melbourne's Her Majestey's Theatre in the Australian premiere season of Spamalot, playing the role of King Arthur. The musical was based on cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and was adapted for the stage by Eric Idle. The show ran in Melbourne from November 2007 to April 2008.

Professor Bille (pronounced “Bill”) Brown has received a number of awards during his distinguished career both in Australia and abroad. He received an Australian Centenary Medal in the 2001 Queen’s New Year Honours List for his services to the Australian arts.

Born in Biloela in Central Queensland, Professor Brown completed a Bachelor of Arts UQ and a Postgraduate Diploma of Education in the early seventies, and in 2001 was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University.

During his student days at St Lucia, Professor Brown acted with the student drama company Dramsoc and made his professional debut with the Queensland Theatre Company in 1971. It was during his time at UQ that Professor Brown also developed a long and significant professional relationship with fellow alumnus Geoffrey Rush.

Professor Brown’s career took him abroad to Britain where he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and was the first Australian commissioned by the RSC to write and perform in their play The Swan Down Gloves.

While working in the United Kingdom Professor Brown also performed in the West End, and while performing onstage at Stratford he was spotted by John Cleese who cast him in Fierce Creatures, the sequel to A Fish Called Wanda.

Professor Brown made his Broadway debut as a playwright with A Christmas Carol in 1984 and as an actor in Michael Frayn’s Wild Honey in 1986. He was also an Artist-in-Residence at the State University of New York in 1982.

Professor Brown returned to Australia to live permanently in 1996 and had a major success with his role as Count Almaviva in 1998 with The Marriage of Figaro, which also starred Geoffrey Rush.

In 1999 he was acclaimed in Sydney and subsequently throughout Australia as Oscar Wilde in the Belvoir St production of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss. The same year he accepted an appointment as Adjunct Professor in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at UQ and in this role has given regular workshops and masterclasses for drama students.

In 2007 The University of Queensland awarded Professor Brown a joint UQ-Arts Queensland writer’s fellowship to develop new play The School of Arts, which recently completed a successful premiere season in Brisbane.

The play follows the story of the “College Players” troupe who toured Shakespeare through Queensland in the late 60s. The School of Arts is currently touring regional Queensland, with a special performance in Professor Brown’s hometown of Biloela taking place on August 8 as part of Q150 celebrations.

Media: Tara Young (07 3365 3072) or Cameron Pegg at UQ Communications (07 3365 2049,