Michael Browne, iOS Developer on Acting & Writing

What excites me the most about acting is exploring a character: finding out who they are, why they do things, and what motivates them to do it. Sometimes it could be the complete opposite of whom you are as a person, but you still need to try and understand them whether you believe it’s right or wrong. With writing, it’s all about creating that world. You pick a scenario, plop people into it, and run with it. It could be anything from sacrificing a hobo to a demon to get back your loved one, or a song that leads you to your true love. I like to use fantastical elements when I’m writing a script, but try to base it in the real world. Finally with producing, it’s seeing the final product and being able to sit back when it’s all done and just say “I made that happen”.

My name is Michael Browne. I’m a mobile and front end web developer, specialising in iOS, and I’m training to be an actor part-time with the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin. I also write scripts and produce short films and plays when I have the time.

I studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering in UCC, but upon graduation, I failed to secure a permanent job in the area. I went back to UCC and got my Masters in Interactive Media. The course focused on web development, some graphics and video editing, and this new thing – mobile phone apps. At the time of 2009/2010, there were about 2 Android devices out (HTC Dream and HTC Magic, I believe) and maybe the first generation iPhone. It was a pain to even get an app installed, so I chose to focus my Masters’ project on building a mobile optimised web app. That project got me into the mobile development track – at first building cross-platform apps using JavaScript (Titanium and PhoneGap were the big players), and then on to native iOS when Swift came along. A startup in Cork hired me based off of that, and I’ve been working with them ever since. As well, during the Masters, I edited my first short film Follow the White Rabbit, which slowly put me on the path of my two worlds colliding as they are doing today.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I became interested in acting. I had done school plays every few years. I’ve fond memories of them, but nothing that would have sparked an interest to want to pursue it. Then college happened, a desk job, and life. But then that became boring – I remember sitting at a computer and Googling acting classes in spring 2015. I went to one, then another. That led to an audition, to a school, and it kind of just snowballed from there.

An actor I particular admire is Sir Patrick Stewart. Most people would see Professor X or Jean Luc Picard, but then watch that man do Shakespeare or comedy (Blunt Talk) and you’ll see his range of talent. Hugh Jackman would be a close second. He may have been Wolverine, but give that man a musical number and watch him go.

I auditioned for a full-time summer course, Film +, that took place in 2017. During that course, 5 others and I wrote and shot a couple of short movies. I took a year off to write and shoot a few of my own. In that time, I completed 2 shorts (Why Alice and Sirens Song) with a company called Pale Rebel Productions, which I have writing credits on (and appeared in). After that year, I felt I needed to go back training again, so I opted for a theatre based course at Gaiety School of Acting to refresh that style of acting.

The most important thing I learned about acting at Gaiety is that in every scene, you need to ask yourself: “What is your objective and how are you going to get it?” This is, in my opinion, one of the major fundamentals of acting, but is also applicable to everybody in everyday life.

Why Alice – Short Film

For the Gaiety showcase in June 2019, my class is performing 3 short plays from a 17th-century French playwright, Moliere. I play the main character, Sganarelle in “The Forced Marriage”. It deals with a man who has gotten to the point in his life where he feels he needs to get married and have kids so that his life is complete. But there’s that nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he shouldn’t, so he goes out and asks his peers what they think. It’s a comedy which is played very over the top – heightened emotions and reactions. It’s going to be very fun to do. The other plays are “The Seductive Countess” and “Two Precious Maidens Ridiculed”. The class comes together twice a week to experiment and rehearse the play. Each week, we go over a scene or two, tease some things out, and go away to examine it. Eventually, over the weeks, the scenes fit together like a jigsaw and you get the full show. The process is made to be similar to how rehearsals would take place for professional shows, just done on a longer schedule.

In April & May of 2019, I produced a play for Glass Mask Theatre, called “The Seamster’s Daughter”, which was written and directed by acclaimed Irish playwright Jimmy Murphy. It tells the story of Megan, a young adult who has just found out that her mother was raped and that she was the result. Megan is then determined to find her “father” and confront him for ruining her mother’s life.

My role in this play wasn’t creative, but it was a vital part of the theatre process. The producer is effectively a project manager. I was managing the budget, organising the venue, liaising with the director and the cast, creating a social media buzz … the list goes on. It was my first time producing something of that scale, and I learned an awful lot in a short space of time. From an acting perspective, it was an amazing experience. I spent days in the rehearsal room learning from actors who’ve graced TV screens and stages in both Ireland and abroad. Then, at the end of it all, I got to see the full thing on the stage amongst the audience, listening to their reactions, and knowing that I had a hand in creating it.

Ride – Short Film

My favourite acting experience to date would have to be one of my first roles, in a play by a Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues, called “The Serpent”. It was the first time I got engrossed in the role; I tuned out and the character took over. I remember at the end wondering why and how it all went so quickly as the adrenaline rush wore off.

Another memorable experience is when I played a corpse. I was an extra in a huge site-specific play by Corcadorca. At the start of the performance, the audience was led through houses in a makeshift village. In the last house, a woman mourned over an open casket with me inside. There wasn’t much acting, but I could hear and sometimes feel the audience standing over me, exclaiming how life like it looked. At times I just wanted to open their eyes and scare them. I did once, but that was just a dry run and scared one of the crew. Later on in the play, I’d appear in an upstairs window of another house, shouting out at the gathered crowd. One night, I heard “He’s alive” come from a member of the audience!

Sirens Song – Behind the Scenes

The most challenging part about acting on stage is knowing that the audience is there. The audience is just feet away from you, the spotlight is illuminating you, and every pair of eyes is fixated on you. Luckily enough, if a spotlight is on you, you can’t see the audience. So you could be acting to a blank wall for all you know. Sometimes, especially in smaller productions, that’s not the case. You can pick out every single face. But after weeks of rehearsing, you build up a confidence to go out there and perform. I don’t like to know who is in the audience, in case it’s a friend or family member whose opinion I value or a reviewer who could make or break a career. It adds unnecessary pressure. But the one golden nugget I hold on to is that the audience doesn’t know what I’m going to say. Most probably haven’t read the play. So as long as I stay in character, even if I get stuck or do something wrong, they won’t realise it. This doesn’t really work with Shakespeare though – it’s too well known. You can see it yourself; if you go to both the first night of a run and the last night, you’ll notice subtle differences in the performance.

My future goal with acting is to get paid! Everything I’ve been doing to date is to build up a portfolio, meet new people, and get some experience. I’d like to reach a point where I can comfortably take a few weeks off working in software to take a paid role or work on a bigger project. The course I’m doing finishes in June 2019, and I’ve got some auditions coming up, so hopefully that will be the case in the next year or two.

Dacia – Beast from the East

I do see similarities between writing and my current occupation. The creative process in writing a script would be very similar to starting an iOS app from scratch. I’d decide what I’d like the end product to be, then pick a theme, and start piecing the elements together. One area where acting and software dev would be the same is their communities. When starting out in acting, there are a lot of people available who would spend some time, give you advice, and help you with auditions, or self-taping. This would equate to forums online (Stack Overflow, anyone?) where the dev community comes together to help each other out, answering questions, or providing advice.

Without a doubt, acting and writing have been beneficial to my tech career. I considered myself to be shy and kept to myself a good bit. By acting, I’ve found the confidence to allow me to speak up and offer an opinion in situations. It really comes to the fore when doing presentations or interviews. I no longer get nervous when standing in front of my peers. In fact, you’d find a lot of individuals working in areas from tech to politics who’d take an entry-level acting class to help overcome issues with public speaking.

My advice for anyone looking to start acting is to just go out and do it. For me, I was sitting at my computer, Googled a course, found out there was a free open day the next week, and I just went to it. It was that simple. With writing, it’s a different story (get it?). Some of the best stories come when you write something you know, so start there. It could be a blog, or fan fiction, or just a private entry in a journal. But once you start, and you get the creative juices flowing, then start asking yourself “What If?”, and let your imagination take you from there.

I think there is always more than tech. You look back on history, and you’ll see creativity has been around since the start. With the invention of new technologies comes new ways to express or share that creativity. It also gives birth to new creative passions. Tech is very much a tool to be used creatively. When it comes to technologists, having that creative passion allows you to show the world something unique and inspiring.

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