Adam Brace, director of ambitious one-person shows, dies at 43
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Adam Brace, director of ambitious one-person shows, dies at 43
A photo provided by Monique Carboni shows the director Adam Brace, right, with the comedian Alex Edelman working on the Off Broadway production of “Just for Us” before it opened at the Cherry Lane Theater in 2021. Brace, a prolific British director renowned as an incisive collaborator with stand-up comedians and other performers on a string of acclaimed one-person shows, one of which is to open on Broadway next month, died on April 29, 2023, in London. He was 43. (Monique Carboni via The New York Times)

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK, NY.- Adam Brace, a prolific British director renowned as an incisive collaborator with stand-up comedians and other performers on a string of acclaimed one-person shows, one of which is to open on Broadway next month, died April 29 in London. He was 43.

Rebecca Fuller, his partner, said the cause of his death, in a hospital, was complications of a stroke.

For more than a decade, Brace worked with more than a dozen comedians and actors, up-and-coming as well as established and most of them British, to craft stage shows that were thematically and structurally more ambitious than conventional stand-up sets, more in the tradition of shows starring American monologists like Eric Bogosian, Colin Quinn and Mike Birbiglia.

Brace, who had once been a playwright, helped edit the shows with a sophisticated ear to what audiences wanted.

“He looked after so much more than the jokes and the laughs,” said American comedian Alex Edelman, whose show “Just for Us” is scheduled to begin performances at the Hudson Theatre on June 22, after an Obie Award-winning run off-Broadway. It was also staged in London and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, an annual performing arts extravaganza. “He looked after the intangibles that can turn a good comedian into a great comedian.”

Edelman, who also worked with Brace on two other one-man shows, added: “Comedians are maniacs, and he dealt with us at our rawest and most eccentric. He’d take these personal stories and translate them into accessible shows.”

“Just for Us” tells the story of how Edelman, after drawing the attention of white nationalists online, decided to infiltrate a group of them in Queens. It was praised last year by Laura Collins-Hughes in The New York Times as “a brisk, smart provocation of a monologue” about “race and identity in American culture.”

The coming move of Edelman’s show to Broadway follows by several months the opening in London’s West End of “One Woman Show,” Liz Kingsman’s theatrical parody about a playwright who decides to write and perform a confessional monologue. It was nominated for an Olivier Award for best entertainment or comedy play and will open off-Broadway, at the Greenwich House Theater, next month.

“With my show, he changed everything,” Kingsman, an Australian-born actor and writer, said by phone. “It could have been a show that didn’t have a lot of depth, but together we dove down and figured out everything underneath it and everything we wanted to say with the best delivery method.”

She added, “I never wanted my show to be a soapbox thing, I never wanted it to sound like I was preaching, so it was about us finding the form where we could make everything funny and digestible.”

For Brace, directing one-person comedy shows like Kingsman’s was mostly about being a dramaturge, the literary editor of a play. He had held that job at the Soho Theatre in London before becoming its associate director.

“The term ‘director’ is not a useful or accurate term in comedy, but it’s one we’re stuck with now,” he told The Stage, a British performing arts publication, in 2022. “I don’t really tell anyone to do anything.”

“What we’re doing,” he added, “is shaping the whole event. It’s hard-core dramaturgy and, at the most involved level, co-creation.”

Adam George Brace was born March 25, 1980, in London. His father, George, an architect, was killed in a bicycle accident before Adam was born. His mother, Nicola (Sturdy) Brace, was a theater administrator. As a teenager, Adam stuffed envelopes with her theater’s season announcements and watched its productions.

His paternal grandmother nurtured his interest in theater by taking him to the Edinburgh Festival — where many of the shows he later directed were performed.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in drama from the University of Kent in 2002, he taught English as a foreign language in South Korea and acted at a children’s theater in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He also worked as a gardener, a security guard and a journalist at The Irish Post. In 2007, he received a master’s degree in writing for performance at Goldsmiths, University of London.

While studying for his master’s, he traveled to Amman, Jordan, where he researched what turned out to be his first full-length play, “Stovepipe.” The story of the recruitment of private British military contractors during the Iraq war and an ambush that kills one of them, it opened in England in 2008. The Daily Telegraph’s reviewer, writing about a 2009 production, said that Brace’s script “crackles with tense dialogue and gradually reveals a cunning sense of structure.”

His next play, “They Drink It in the Congo” (2016), about a young white Londoner’s efforts to start a festival to celebrate Congolese culture and raise awareness of the civil wars in Congo, was his last. By then, he had begun directing one-person shows. He also worked as an associate at the Gate Theater in London, from 2011 to 2013; as an associate dramaturge at Nuffield Southampton Theatres, from 2013 to 2016; and, most recently, at the Soho Theater.

He also worked regularly with Sh!t Theatre, a theater company consisting of Fuller and Louise Mothersole, whose performance art includes music, comedy and multimedia elements.

“We called him our directurge,” Fuller, who performs under the name Rebecca Biscuit, said by phone. “He helped you see connections in things that weren’t visible.”

In addition to Fuller, Brace is survived by his mother; his brothers, Tim and Alex Hopkins; and his stepfather, Nigel Hopkins.

Edelman said that after a show, he and Brace would assess how well he had executed several goals, including whether he had found the right balance between stillness and momentum.

With Brace’s death, he said, “One of the things I’m thinking about is, who will be the person to talk to about that execution with me?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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