Ann D. Brebner
By Nancy Nakai
use words like "mentor", "leader",
"creator", and "entrepreneur". As evidence
of this, Ms. Brebner recently
"did the impossible" and
serving as Board President guided the Mill Valley Film Festival from a
struggling, debt-ridden organization
arts organization. A
Festival board member credits
"the strength of Ann's vision,
and integrity" to be
the major ingredient in this success.
Jean Ann Brebner has come to Marin County via a circuitous route, one
the ranchlands of New Zealand to "the center of it all" in
London and finally to Sausalito. Ann's
life began in 1923;
sadly, her mother's life
ended in her child's birth.* An only child, Ann was raised by
a father, John H. Don, whom
she termed "a very remote man", and her great aunt "a very loving
woman", her memories of a
childhood abound with visual images of
open fields, snow covered mountains and clear, large lakes.
It was at one of the
those lakes that Ann loved
to spend her summers, often alone
on the lake in a boat, sometimes with a friend.
She loved the unstructured time and the space to
be curious and inventive.
"It was where I did a lot of my dreaming."
devoted up to six hours per
day to practice her craft at
the keyboard. She says
that she had a clear vision of
the stage, a knowledge of what it would feel like to perform.
Above all, she believed
that stage performance would enable her to gain recognition for being
"who I really was".
For at that tender age, she already felt the stress of fulfilling roles that she
did not want. Her father had wanted
a son. With his daughter, he taught
her those things he wanted
to share with a son. For example,
before she reached puberty she could assist in the
tear down and reassembly
of a car engine.
But she never gained confidence in the social skills she felt she could have
learned from a mother. In fact, she feels
the most vulnerable when she is in an unstructured social situation, where she
has no specific role to fill (i.e., guest speaker).
At school she was active in
sports, as a member
of the tennis team and the
swimming team. It helped
to be so active and away from home for long hours.
For her great aunt, a wonderful, loving, "traditional" woman
who had enjoyed gardening and cooking and sewing,
now permanently hospitalized. Thus,
from the age of twelve, Ann came home to a long series of housekeepers.
mother's name was Jean McBey Robertson Don
a thriving reconstructive surgery
had little free time; his high standards at home led
to the housekeepers
quitting after short periods of
pretty much raised myself from then on," she states.
When asked about who had most influenced her as a
youngster, Ann speaks about her beloved uncle, her mother's brother. He owned a large ranch and had five children. (Ann was
one year older than his
"He believed in me.
He would stand up for me."
She always felt special
to him. Much
of his practical wisdom still surfaces in her thinking now and then.
Her favorite insight from him came when she asked him what to
do in case she ever
that she must: 1) not run around crazy - rather stay still until you know
where you are; then, 2) you'll know
where to go when you know to go. It
is a piece of wisdom that she made sure she passed on to her two sons.
When it came time for college, Ann wanted to
pursue her piano studies in
Germany, with a mind toward her vision of a career on stage as a concert
pianist. But, her
father wished to finance
only a liberal
After she completed college, she could "pursue that
foolishness" if she wanted.
She never went
piano. Graduating from
the University of New
degree in abnormal
psychology and theoretical music, she did postgraduate
work in psychology. She applied to
medical school with
an intention of obtaining an M.D. in psychiatry.
But on the day she received her acceptance into medical school, she also
received word that she had
been awarded a government scholarship to study theater at the famous Old Vic
Theatre School in London. Much to
the chagrin of her father, she opted for the Old Vic.
support me, and he
didn't," she claims. Leaving New Zealand was
hard for her, and she
realizes it was also hard
on her father.
But it was something she had
Quoting a New York Times article, "The self
gives up images and
expectations and moves to
write its own history."
That is how she felt about arriving in London to begin study at
the Old Vic. "I was
really 'out there'! But what
a wonderful time it was!"
There was a faculty
of thirty-five, and two
groups of eighteen students (it was
program). "There was somebody watching you
critically, but rather to
question and mold the
experience. ..'Why? Why? Why?'
they would ask always seeking to
bring you to understand the 'Truth of the moment'."
They designed the sets, the lighting, and acted in the production as well.
if the scenery
designed out of scale, if it
didn't fit in the door; if the lighting didn't light what it was supposed to;
and/or if the sound system they designed was inadequate, it was
This complete technical training
helped Ann to gain an expertise and build a firm foundation upon which to
construct a career in the theater. She
loved the time spent there. Often
actors like Sir Lawrence Olivier would come to the Old Vic to practice their
craft. The opportunity to speak
with and learn from such legendary theater artists was a priceless experience.
Another outcome of her two years at the Old Vic was that she met her husband,
John Brebner, there. He was her
stagecraft instructor. They were
married in New Zealand in 1953. Ann
remembers that the night before her wedding was the first time her father ever
spoke to her about her mother. It
was a bittersweet experience. But,
the Brebners did not settle in New Zealand.
Having spent some time in the Bay Area while on a Fullbright scholarship
at Stanford, John Brebner wanted to return to San Francisco and live in his
“Nirvana”, namely, Sausalito.
For the next two years, Ann directed stage and television around Northern
California. She gave lectures at
Stanford University. She taught
acting and directed plays for three years at Dominican High School in San
Rafael. In 1960, she co-founded the
Marin Shakespeare Festival and served as its Executive Director.
The Shakespeare Festival was to continue for the next ten years with
annual, outdoor summer productions of three and four plays per season.
Ann directed one of these plays each summer.
That same Year, her husband began teaching acting classes under the auspices of
a San Francisco talent agency. Shortly
thereafter the owners of the agency decided to retire and the Brebners took over
the agency. Brebner Agencies, Inc.
was informed almost immediately that the film, “The Pleasure of His Company”
was coming to town for filming and needed to have an entire cast.
Could the Brebner Agency fulfill this need? Indeed they could, and they were on their way.
Ann’s husband stayed with the agency for a year or two, but soon returned to
children’s theater and directing. Over
the next twenty-three years Ann handled the location casting on all major motion
pictures, television series and television commercials which were made in
Northern California. During the
last five years with the Brebner Agencies, she also represented screen actors
and well as screen writers for motion pictures, television and commercials.
In the middle
of all the work and sweat and excitement, Ann, at the age of 37 and 39 years of
age, gave birth to two sons, Alexander (1960) and John Howard (1962).
For the next few years, Ann tried to balance a very demanding career and
Century Fox just couldn’t understand that I was not at the office because I
was picking up my sons from school.” She
even tried part time work for a while, but the agency needed more.
What she remembers about that time in her life was the craziness of all
the demands on her time and energy. She
remembers who important her sons were to her. ("I think I needed them more
than they needed me."), and how she tried to instill in them some of the
lessons her New Zealand uncle had
taught her about feeling lost and options.
create a drama department at
the College of Marin. Since she was
the technical aspects of
she also helped to design the theater that now
stands on the
Marin's Kentfield campus.
She taught drama
year, but a credentials
controversy (the state community college system
would not credit her post-graduate work at
Vic), led her to cut her
Her capabilities grew enormously during this
period in terms of her aims and
love of understanding how things worked, her love of variety and
change and her need
to discard repetition and old
securities. Unhappily, one of the results of this was a divorce in 1972
from her husband, who was changing
at a different pace and in a different direction.
The work at the
agency began to get to the
point where she was involved almost
such as insurance, contracts
and legal papers.
Less and less did she have time to do casting work and exercise her
artistic judgment. The practical
pressures of the job, "making a fiscally safe place for creative people to
operate" led her
to have twenty-eight phone
lines on her
desk. Combined with the
emotional strain - "There is always someone road at
it the actor
or the director, etc." -
her enjoyment of
agency work began to erode.
Her own creativity was "screeching to get out!".
In other words, those things that
had attracted her to agency work in
the first place were almost absent from
her daily contributions at work.
agency in 1982.
She sold it with a twinge, but was glad to be rid of the routine
managerial details she found so boring. Now
she could get on with the rewards of the entrepreneurial process that came so
naturally. In 1983, Ann was honored for her contributions to the
profession in a tribute held at the Stanford Court Hotel. Over four hundred
members of the motion picture and
entertainment industry attended.
for the film Massive Retaliation and the American Playhouse Production of
Smooth Talk. She co-authored
with Roger Freeburg the screenplays for Dearly Beloved, Going Home, and The
Anniversary. Since 1986,
Ann has taught acting workshops
in San Francisco, Denver and
New York City. Since 1984, Ann had
facilitated workshops with actors
in New York, Denver and
San Francisco. The workshops focus on the specific problems of film
acting and work with
a method (which she has devised)
of learning a script in just one
reading. She works with groups of
ten actors, although she prefers to have had a private session with each student
prior to working with them in a group.
actors on matters such
with casting directors and agents, etc.
Often her psychology degree
comes in handy as she helps
some clients come to grips
with angers and tensions that serve as an impediments to their careers.
In 1987, she became the first woman recipient
of the Pioneer Award from the
Association of Visual Communicators. Her
list of accomplishments continues. She
has recently directed
a play in New York City entitled "Queen's Night", a
biographical, political play about the
Antoinette. She has written a book.
the Actor; Overcoming
Creative Blocks, (published
how creative blocks get in
place and how to overcome them. She
has begun work on another book.
She has done some
pre-production work on a favorite
film project of hers, with a working title of "Hard Laughter".
She no longer wants to produce
it (maybe cast it or direct it instead) and is looking for
"adoptive parents" to take over the film
and get it the
producers and money it will
need to get on the screen.
In addition to all
of this, Ann has managed to find the time to assist the Mill
for both financial solvency and
As the Festival continues to prosper upon
the firm footing she
has established during her seven
years of involvement, her contemporaries on the Festival board laud her efforts:
"...to friend and foe alike, she conducted herself
with grace and dignity and
with her integrity intact." She
is excited that the 1990 Festival will continue
to bring to
the local population might otherwise not see.
It will also involve film makers from
around the world, lending a
multi-cultural flavor. She also
hopes that an environmental awareness can be woven into the 1990 theme.
As always, the residents of
the county and the Bay Area will be the beneficiary as a number
of film experts, etc.
come to brighten our community for the two to three weeks of the
She also serves as
a member of the
board of the Pickle Family Circus. She
is on the Advisory Boards of
both Bread and Roses and AASK.
She is a founding member of Northern California Women in Film.
And on a daily basis, as one person wrote, "..she has a deep
she comes in contact.
Her intelligence and
an inspiration to many...."
New Zealand girl
who aspired to "be someone unusual, ..to be recognized
something different", Ann Brebner
achieved one of her most
important childhood goals. Ann
has other projects in
the works: another play to direct; a
project with Tamalpais High School students based
on a journal-writing
assignment; another year
of involvement with the Mill
Valley Film Festival; and, others yet uncreated.
Always a contributor, Ann's personal motto is "Wait a minute, I
haven't finished yet!!!!"
We await her next efforts with anticipation.
Thoughts on the Theater Industry
from Ann Brebner
do film acting and stage acting differ?
acting is subtractive, becoming simpler to your own internal truth until you are
to the camera. Stage acting is
additive - you need to create aesthetic distance to cover yourself.
You need to become larger than life.
True artistry in acting
leaves space in the performance to allow the audience room to add their own
emotions, and to identify and make the final connection."
director must assume that the play written is your road map.
The director is then the one who decides what the audience will see as
they follow the roadway. sort of a
visual traffic cop. The director
chooses the piece of emotional thread to show where the vulnerability of the
play is. The challenge of directing
is the fear. I feel, “I wonder if
this is the one where I fall flat on my face?
When I begin a production, I lose myself in it. It is a leap of faith;
the audience will let me know.”
the director: Special skills?
use my original gut instinct, my
initial reaction to
what I feel is the focus
of the play.
I make that the
focus of my directive efforts."
for fledgling directors?
it! Don't think about it.
To learn a craft
or skill, you absolutely have to do it."
for a new talent agent?
true to your gut feelings.
Don't try to twist things around in a way to please other people.
It just won't work."
philosophy in the profession (and beyond)?
seek the truth of the moment.
live in the moment. There is a
profound responsibility implicit in knowing something.
Once you know, suspect or
have a hunch in some way you are obliged to act on that knowledge.
There is an imperative attached to the knowing.
If you do
it you are betraying
a deep level.
This applies equally in creative fields, relationships and every corner