Parker moves on

Local playwright heads East to find an audience for black theater

After years of trying to promote black theater in Sacramento, writer and director William A. Parker is leaving. He’s not quitting. He’s just heading for greener pastures, specifically the Southeast, where America’s black theater scene is thriving.

“My work is desired,” Parker told SN&R last weekend, “but Sacramento is a hard place to sound the drum.”

Parker has been at it for a long time. The Stockton native honed his theater skills at CSUS decades ago. He began producing his own plays, typically in small venues. His work often dealt with hot-button issues, like gender equality in Waitin’ 2 End Hell.

Parker made a breakthrough when a video of Waitin’ 2 End Hell caught the eye of New York producer and director Woodie King Jr. After a few revisions, the play was produced in New York in the summer of 2004. It ran over 100 performances and was reviewed by The New York Times, The Village Voice and many others. A tour followed, with dates in Sacramento and elsewhere.

Riding on this momentum, Parker brought several one-man shows by New York actors to Sacramento, including a marvelous piece about Thelonious Monk starring Rome Neal. He also staged youth theater productions with his Young Voices company. But despite all this activity, his shows didn’t attract a lot of attention.

“A major part of the problem is that the consciousness just doesn’t exist here,” Parker said. “The city is not prepared to invest time, energy and dollars bringing Sacramento up to speed. … It will be 15 to 20 years before this city ‘gets it,’ and I don’t have that kind of time.”

In fairness, the contributions of African-Americans are evident in the local theater scene. The Sacramento Theater Company had a hit with Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun last year, the Children’s Theatre of California commissioned Safe at Home: The Jackie Robinson Story, and the Music Circus is currently running Smokey Joe’s Cafe with a predominantly African-American cast. Celebration Arts, officially a “multicultural” playhouse, regularly stages community productions of August Wilson plays.

Still, there isn’t the kind of full-time black theater Parker wants to see. “In the entire state of California,” Parker said, “there is one black theater where a professional black actor can go and earn a living, and that’s the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco. Think about that.”

Parker’s plays are getting attention elsewhere. He had a show in Nashville, Tenn., this month and before that in Houston and in Denver. “There are theaters around the country that are interested in my work,” he said. “So I say to Sacramento, ‘I love you, but until, politically, the struggle is understood, I’m wasting my time here.’”