15 under 40: Brian Clowdus

Brian Clowdus is the founder of Serenbe Playhouse, which held its first productions in the summer of 2010—two in the courtyard behind the community’s bakeshop on a stage built by Clowdus and the shows’ actors, and one deep in the woods. The simple first season led to important critics praising its original, site-specific creative. Flash-forward five years, and Serenbe Playhouse under Clowdus’ guardianship is a fierce force in Atlanta theater—doubling audiences each season, selling out shows and winning awards like “Best Musical” by BroadwayWorld and ArtsATL for last season’s Hair. This summer, the company is celebrating its fifth season.

What’s the biggest challenge and reward of running Serenbe Playhouse? I need more hours in the day! We are growing faster than I can almost keep up with, but I am not complaining. It really is a dream come true and I still pinch myself that we are celebrating our fifth anniversary this year! The greatest reward has to be seeing my audience escape to different worlds where they are challenged, entertained and emotionally stirred.

Most memorable production to date?It would have to be The Sleepy Hollow Experience this past fall. As a summer-based company we decided on a whim to extend our season into the fall with a reinvented production of Sleepy Hollow set in the Serenbe Stables. It got loads of buzz and completely sold out before the opening. We even had to add late-night shows which also sold out! This year, due to popular demand, we have officially announced that we will be reviving the show in an even more spooktaculer production this October!

How does one go about being a part of a Serenbe Playhouse production? We audition all over the Southeast, however, my goal is to cast as much Atlanta talent as possible. Atlanta has an incredible pool of talent and I am committed to giving local artists jobs! We hold open auditions in Atlanta, attend Southeastern Theatre Conference Auditions, Institute of Outdoor Theatre Auditions, Atlanta Unified Auditions and travel to colleges around the Southeast for our casting tour. When all is said and done I will have seen over two thousand actors audition, and this summer, we have hired 22 actors.

How do you combat creative blocks? When I do get stuck creatively, I just start trying loads of things and eventually something sparks. I create an environment where actors feel safe to make choices. I come into rehearsal with major concepts in my head but rely on actors’ instincts to help guide the shape of the play. I think a lot of time artists think too much and can overwork things. Personally, I follow my impulses and try loads of things rather than fearing what I may be doing isn’t right or perfect.

What’s the future look like for Serenbe Playhouse? Well immediately, we have our Fifth Anniversary Season to produce this summer! We are also moving more and more towards year-round programming. We launched a major education initiative this year—Serenbe Playhouse Academy. It includes monthly master classes, musical theatre camps and year-long acting apprenticeships. In short, my goal is to keep creating engaging theatre experiences for our growing audience, while also educating and training artists of all ages.

How do you enjoy your spare time? Honestly, I don’t have a lot of it and in the little spare time I do have, I usually pick up freelance directing work in Atlanta. In the past year, outside of Serenbe Playhouse, I have directed three shows at other theatre companies in Atlanta. But again, when you truly love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. I also like to stay healthy though so no matter how busy I get, I try and find time to get a quick run on the Beltline or hop into the gym.

To learn more about Serenbe Playhouse, visit serenbeplayhouse.com.

{This year’s 15 under 40 class is presented by Matthews’ Furniture Galleries