Shelter Plays: Interview with Playwright and Filmmaker Andrew Brier

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Andrew Brier is a theater professional who created “Shelter Plays,” a series of virtual performances that specifically focuses on one-act plays. Although based in Denver, Colorado, the imitative is open to writers and actors from all over the globe.

There are presently 15 short plays on the website, all of which focus on dealing with life in America during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Andrew, a playwright and teacher, saw the need for this platform when the coronavirus struck the U.S. and everyone went into quarantine. The concept for “Shelter Plays” came to him in a dream. Drawing on his background as an independent filmmaker, Andrew decided to produce the plays and discover a new audience.

Andrew graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in English Literature and Theater. As an actor, he performed at the Bonstelle Theater and the Hillberry Classic Shakespeare Co. in Detroit. He studied both playwriting and photography before establishing himself as a producer and director. Andrew received an ​Emmy​ award for commercials he produced and directed for ​Big Brothers of America and a MTV​ Achievement award for producing and directing the music video “​Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer​.” He went on to work for​NBC Bay Area Sports​ as a Camera Operator, Stage Manager, Specials Producer who served through six world championship seasons. He founded ​SF BioFlix​, an independent video production company and has seen his work premiere to acclaim—and awards—at film festivals.

Andrew recently discussed this project via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in playwriting and acting?

Andrew Brier (AB): I grew up in New York and my Mother took me to the theater all the time because my Father was working and she had an extra ticket. We saw everything. I always loved theater and wanted to be a part of it. I would close my eyes as the house lights went down and open them to a magical world. I still feel the same way today.

MM: How did that lead to an interest in film, directing, and producing?

AB: I studied photography with some of the great masters at the New School in Manhattan in the 1970’s. I went to San Francisco as a professional Photographer and did fashion and commercial studio photography into the 80’s. A friend asked me to partner with him in a commercial video company and that led me to film making. One of the first projects I directed and produced was a series of PSA’s for Big Brothers of America, (I was a Big Brother), and those commercials went national and won a Bay Area Emmy Award. That was a nice start.

MM: How did you break into the entertainment industry?

AB: I am a born Producer and I love working with creative artists. I have always been willing to invent and follow up on worthy projects that I come across in Theater, Film and Television. I love to make up fun games and I am good at convincing creative people to play along.

MM: How is working on commercials and music videos different from regular films?

AB: I don’t like commercials. They are too “commercial”. Music videos and short films I really do like. Just like with short plays you have to get it said and affect your audience in a very limited time. It is challenging, but I think audiences are attuned to shorter hits of entertainment today so it works, and if the script is good and the acting first rate it can be great.

MM: What did it feel like to win an Emmy?

AB: Shocking. Totally unprepared.

MM: How did you get into working with sports?

AB: Sports have always been a big part of my life as a player, as a coach, as a spectator. When I got the opportunity to work for Comcast Sports and NBC in San Francisco it was very cool. I got to rub elbows with some sports legends and I was lucky enough to witness the Warriors and the Giants win six world championships. But after 10 years it was like working in a candy store for too long. You just don’t want to eat chocolate anymore, so I was not unhappy to retire.

MM: Now that you’ve retired from television, you’ve moved back to playwriting. Has that been a challenge?

AB: Writing is hard work but very rewarding. I like writing ten-minute plays. The theater is unique for a writer because of the collaboration involved. I am always aware that I am writing in order to give my work away to someone else who will interpret it and stage it according to their own added inspiration and skill. Some writers don’t like to give up control, but that’s what I really do find fascinating about writing plays. Give it away. Let someone else add to your vision.

MM: You were inspired to start the virtual Shelter Plays series and website from a dream, have ideas frequently come to you in such a way?

AB: When I made the award-winning music documentary “Calm Before the Rising Storm,” it began with a dream that my Brother Bob had and called me up at 2 o’clock in the morning. It took my wife Amy Lee Solomon, my son Max and me three years to complete that 30-minute film on my days off from NBC. The Shelter Plays only took six months to complete but it did begin with waking up with an idea one morning and just making the instant decision to follow through on it and see what happens.The key is believing in your own ability to make the dream a reality, and being able to convince other very talented people to share it. That is the art of producing. I may have good ideas but successful execution depends upon working with a group of creative partners doing their best.

MM: How do you find plays to produce as part of this series?

AB: Initially I contacted a few great Playwrights that I was acquainted with. The first to respond was Willian Missuori Downs who said it was a great idea and sent me a wonderful Zoom play: “The New Abnormal.” Others followed and I posted my search online at various sites where Playwrights gather. I think one reason it worked and I received so many top-notch scripts was because of the pandemic. In a way, it was the perfect storm because some very talented writers were looking for an outlet for their work and the theaters were closed. The opportunity to film their work was just what the doctor ordered for them. In times of war and tragedy great theater has historically been created. This is just a new form.

MM: Of all the plays so far, which are especially memorable and why?

AB: Two of the plays are by writers that I recruited who had never written plays before. I am proud to have helped produce their work. These fifteen are scripts that I hand-picked for the Shelter Project. I was lucky enough to team up with a wonderful cinematographer: Erica Jaffe and she did an amazing job filming and editing all fifteen plays. I think they are entertaining, engaging, dramatic and relevant. I like them all and I am honored that these talented writers entrusted me with their work.

MM: As an actor, what roles do you most like to assume and have you acted in any of the Shelter plays?

AB: There were no roles suitable for an old theater geezer like me to play and I have been busy in my Producer role. I have been blessed with having some incredible directors join the collaboration, so I leave the on stage/ on camera work to more talented actors these days. There are some memorable performances and I am content to be behind the scenes watching.

MM: How do you envision this series evolving and what are the challenges of keeping it going and raising awareness about it?

AB: My role as a Producer did not end when the plays went online. I continue to work every day to get the word out on the Shelter Plays and find our audience. It may take some time but I owe that effort to the playwrights and to the more than sixty people who believed in my dream and gave of their time and talent to bring it to fruition. I think that we are a valid part of the new theater that is emerging and I would like to think that a lot of traditional theater going people will see our work as well as a whole new generation of online theatergoers who may discover relevant and entertaining theater this way. Whether we go forward, develop and include new work and expand the project depends on finding that appreciative audience.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

AB: I just want to encourage people to visit theshelterplays.com , watch the plays and pass the link on to friends who may enjoy watching them as well. Let’s keep the theater alive and vital in these darkest of times. I will keep writing. When people ask me this question I always say: “Well, I am getting old and maybe this will be my last big producing effort.” But I know that all it will take is reading one great script, being inspired by one creative idea, or perhaps one more dream, and I’ll be back at it again.

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To learn more, visit the official website of Shelter Plays: https://www.theshelterplays.com/