Getting to Know Mercedes Brown - Dallas Theater Center
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Getting to Know Mercedes Brown

What do you do as the Manager of Individual Giving?

I manage the Patron Perks philanthropic membership program and develop strategies for donation campaigns. There is a lot of writing and data entry work, but I do have fun moments. Part of my role also includes coordinating events for members, sponsors and potential donors. In the time of COVID, I now have to come up with fun ways to engage our members and potential donors virtually. My philosophy on fundraising has always focused on connecting the mission of the organization with the values of the community. A donation of any dollar amount matters.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Organizing our sneak peek events, which are moments we can showcase the skills of our production team and take a peek at the rehearsal process of each show. I am just as surprised as the members are by our talented staff.

How did you start working in theater?

This is my first job at a theater. It was moving here from New York City a couple of years ago that made me aware Dallas has a big theater community. I specialize in arts management in the visual arts non-profit sector, however, my skills translate to any non-profit organization. I believe the Arts is an important part of the human experience. Whether it is playwrights, photographers, dancers, or others artistic expressions; all hold a mirror to the good and bad of our society, leading to conversations about who we are. Dallas Theater Center’s mission and creative vision exemplifies this, which is why I work here.

Cast of Twelfth Night, photo by Karen Almond

Cast of In the Heights, photo by Karen Almond

What is your favorite Dallas Theater Center production and why?

Twelfth Night was an amazing production because it had a diverse cast, an innovative twist on classic and an amazing set. I love the incorporation of the live band as the chorus, integrating contemporary songs to move the story along and explain the Shakespearian language.

In the Heights was also a favorite of mine. I love this music and choreography!  It reminds me what I love most about New York City. My favorite numbers are the intro song, 96,000 and Blackout. I actually walked through that neighborhood during the NYC blackout in the summer of 2003. It was exactly like that Blackout scene. No lights did not stop anybody from enjoying the summertime, LOL. Having this production in Dallas, with a diverse Latinx cast (all with different ethnic backgrounds), highlighted the importance of not viewing minorities as a monolithic group.

Do you have any fur family members you’d like to talk about?

Yes, I have a black cat named Orion after the constellation. I always wanted a cat and found him through an adoption organization one of my colleagues fosters with. Orion is super smart and loves to play fetch. (Yes, cats play fetch!) It’s been a year since I brought him home in November 2019. He is the best companion during these COVID times. Black cats have a lower adoption rate, so October is Black Cat Awareness month to promote cat adoption. Black cats need love too!

You’ve facilitated several virtual happy hour events. What are those like?

Virtual happy hours are hour-long discussions we host for our members. It replaces the behind the scenes events we use to host on-site at our theaters. So far, we had cast reunions from previous Dallas Theater Center productions, staff share their role in theater making, and actors discuss their methodology. We will be hosting a few for the public, but if you want access to all events, join our Patron Perks or Benefactor membership.

You’re active in Dallas Theater Center’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team. Why do you think involvement and activism is so important to theaters?

If a theater is selecting BIPOC playwrights to present and targeting BIPOC audiences, then it should be non-negotiable. Most of our nationally recognized theaters are founded on white voices. Theaters and other art institutions are established solely through what White society deems as “culture;” a Eurocentric perspective. 

Diversity in leadership, mid-level positions and artists is a start to chip away at the institutional standards of White Supremacy. Tokenism is often mistaken for EDI policy, but it is deep-rooted cultural changes that need to take place within the industry. To do this work you have to become radical and be an activist. In my opinion, there is no way around this evolution because you are questioning the status quo. Dallas Theater Center is on track to dismantling these standards. We started this work 2 years ago and we still have A LOT of work to do. Change doesn’t happen overnight.

Cast of In the Heights, photo by Karen Almond

Do you have any advice for someone who’d like to get involved with theater, but doesn’t know where to start?

When people think about working for a theater, they hear about acting, directing, or stage management. Theaters need accountants, fundraisers and marketers too. I work in Development, which is a department responsible for acquiring funding through individual fundraising, grant writing, sponsors, and event revenue.
 This is under arts administration, a career not familiar to many students. My advice is to research how theaters function and learn about the different types of jobs in the industry beyond the stage. You may find a love for casting or theater education. There are lots of options.

Pick a celebrity to have dinner with. Who are you with and what are you having?

Jennifer Lewis, period. I will invite all my friends and tell them to take notes. I just finished her memoir on Audible, The Mother of Black Hollywood and I KNOW she has more stories. If you don’t usually like listening to books, this is the one to select. 

As for the menu, it’s whatever she wants.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you like to talk about?

This is a reminder I always have to give to our patrons. Dallas Theater Center is a non-profit 501c3 organization. We love that you purchase tickets and subscriptions, but this revenue does not even cover half of our budget. We may be a regional theater, but we have a small staff of crafty individuals. 

Your contributions truly do make the magic happen!