Clowdus has the South in his blood. Born and raised in a small Alabama town, he went north for college, then to New York City to work as an actor for six years. When it was time for a change, he looked to his roots.
While in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, he visited the fledgling Serenbe community, which was not much more than a coffee shop, an inn and a collection of houses. In 2007, Serenbe was just starting to develop into what it is today, and Clowdus saw the change to take vast expanses of outdoors real estate to develop unique theater spectacles specific to Serenbe. These site-specific plays, in which the audience is immersed in the action, quickly brought Serenbe a new level of acclaim.
Brian Clowdus directs and stars in Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” at Serenbe Playhouse through Sept. 3. CONTRIBUTED BY BREEANNE CLOWDUS
On that first trip to Serenbe, Clowdus knew his life would become entangled with the community. It encapsulated all the familiar aspects of what Clowdus had experienced living in the South: an abundant sense of community, a love of nature. The community was also open-minded and had an unwavering dedication to the arts, he said.
“It just really punched me in the gut that there are really cool places in the Southeast where I could kind of have it all,” he said. Clowdus returned to Serenbe two years later to launch a theater company. He produced three shows that first year on a budget of $40,000.
“It definitely felt like you were on the pioneering chapter of the community. I knew every single person there,” he said. “The community in those early days, they just 100-percent embraced me.”
Serenbe has since grown substantially, as has the playhouse. Clowdus said the company currently boasts an operating budget of $2.5 million for six productions, a far cry from its humble beginnings.
Tucker Berta Sarkisian, former director of communications at Serenbe, remembered that Clowdus created theater magic that first year. She watched him build a noteworthy and award-winning playhouse from nothing. Instead of lamenting his departure, Sarkisian said his artistic impact will reverberate through Serenbe for quite some time.
Brian Clowdus (left) plays John Wilkes Booth opposite Jeremy Wood as the Balladeer in Fabrefaction Theatre’s staging of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Assassins.” PHOTO CREDIT: BreeAnne Clowdus.
“There’s so much passion and so much support around Serenbe Playhouse,” she said. “People are going to steward what he built, and it’s going to continue to grow and be successful because he is leaving it in a solid, solid place.”
Clowdus began saying his in-house goodbyes about eight months ago, but the actor had been looking to devote his energy full-time to Brian Clowdus Enterprises for about two years. This past year, Clowdus produced eight site-specific plays at venues throughout the country. His 2020 schedule is fully booked.
“I don’t think [leaving] was a shock to anyone because I think everyone was like, ‘How on earth can Brian do all this?’” he said.
The actor-producer plans to keep putting on productions throughout the country, he said, “until something else punches me in the gut and tells me to slow down and grow some roots. But for right now, I’m on an experiential journey. I want to meet as many people and go to as many places and create art in as many locations as I can.”