by Cecilia LaFrance
Playing the lead in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Vintage Theatre in Aurora earlier this year fulfilled one of Brandon Bill’s career ambitions. “I’ve always been in love with that play.” The musical comedy requires one actor to take on nine characters. “I wanted to be the D’Ysquiths someday.” In conversation, Brandon drops names of theatrical characters and musical composers as if they were familiar pop culture or literary allusions. The 34-year-old knows his stuff. It’s why he’s chosen to leave more stable professions and be able to make it as a professional performer.
Tonight’s gig, manning the piano on Cabaret night in the cozy lobby stage of the Vintage Theater, Brandon plays a supporting role in turning out 10 songs to accompany the various talent. Groomed to the nines with polished black dress shoes, black vest over an electric blue dress shirt, and coiffed hair, Brandon’s on duty while also connecting with his tribe. Early on the scene, he hugs and catches up with regulars and other actors. During the show, he laughs at the funny parts of the crew’s skits and holds hope with the rest of the audience when a singer aims for that higher note. As he plays on a beat up piano, his eyes volley between the sheet music in front of him to cues he reads from the face on stage.
“Definitely, the bug hit as a kid,” Brandon says of his affliction with the arts. Making people laugh and telling stories motivated him. A future in music and drama fit. “I’m literally not good at anything else.” Straying from his “sports family,” Brandon studied theater and music at University of Northern Colorado and applied himself as a teacher of performing arts for 8 years with Cherry Creek School District.
“I loved teaching,” he says. Performing arts organically results in close relationships with students and deep conversations. “I wanted to instill appreciation for the arts.” Because he’s stayed in touch with former students and hears about their successes, he knows he made an impact. But, his calling was elsewhere. “I felt like I was supposed to be back in the arts. Thankfully, it’s worked out alright.”
Brandon finds himself playing piano often now. In addition to solo gigs, he plays in the pit, onstage, and backstage at the Arvada Center; plays at the PACE Center in Parker; and works as a director or “wherever they need me.” Four years since leaving teaching, Brandon’s making the career switch work. “The more you do, the more you get your name out.” The “incestuous” performing arts culture in Colorado leads to referrals, he says. Be good and people talk.
“I keep fulfilled without doing the same thing all the time.” Whether it’s playing complicated music or acting, like his next part as Dave in The Full Monty, he avoids monotony. And, music and the stage feed his soul. “There’s nothing that compares to when you nail a moment or a song and you feel the audience connection and reaction.” It’s a selfish profession, he says. “We make the people pay money to sit facing the same direction watching us.” Brandon takes the task to heart and wants to make people happy.
Life as a performer, no pun intended, Brandon says, is a lot more dramatic than as a teacher. Sure, high school houses puberty, but the stage hosts “big personalities that all need their ego stroked.” A crew works together frequently, long nights and weekends, which results in the same dramas as any group environment as well as close relationships.
And, there’s pressure. “You’ve got to always be on. You have to bust your butt to be just as good tomorrow as today.” The audience and cast count on him, he says. Each performance serves as proof as why a performer should be hired again.
Long term, Brandon hopes to continue to be as successful or more. “I may not see myself on stage. I do see myself involved.”