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Life & Work with David H. Parker

Today we’d like to introduce you to David H. Parker.

Hi David, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Oh, God, how do people even begin?

I currently split my time between Los Angeles, New York City, and Birmingham, Alabama where I was born to my Black father, Alan, and white mother, Becca. Their attempts at parenthood as naive young people literally the same age I am now (isn’t that terrifying?) left enough of an impression that I now write charged poetry, plays, short films, and audio dramas that center both the successes and failures of parenthood. Among other things. With artists, it’s always “among other things” because trust me we got hella other things to write about!

Much of my childhood in the Dirty South can be traced back to anywhere between Dallas and southern Florida, which the South doesn’t claim, but I’ll let y’all argue about that in the comments! I played the trombone for seven years, danced in the absence of theater, realized how much sports are not for me like the Queer that I am, and a number of other things I’m bound to spill if you get a couple of drinks in me…

I also have to acknowledge that while I grew up experiencing homelessness at several points until high school, I experience privileges that have helped me overcome many of these challenges. I have beauty privilege, light-skinned privilege, academic privilege, etc., which are all reasons I obligate myself to spread love and wealth in any way I can.

Queer, gender-expansive folx were in a stark minority during my tender years in the South. After four years at the surprisingly liberal “hidden gem of the South” known as the University of Alabama at Birmingham as lovingly coined by Lee Shackleford, my Black and Queer identities started to find their footing.

I vacillated between commitments to acting professionally as early as my freshman year, followed by studying directing full-time at the University of California, Los Angeles, where I’m now (somehow) just one year shy of earning an MFA in the craft. I don’t pray anymore, but please pray for me, y’all!

Getting arts degrees as a practitioner is so funny because you basically learn a bunch of possible ways to be an artist until you decide which are completely wrong for you and which ones are right. If you feel like you’re doing life wrong, consider what would happen if you told yourself you’re actually doing life just right. For you. Right now.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
In May 2021, I packed my little 2011 Mini Cooper with the huge white paint splatter (if you know, you know!) to the brim and put 2,046 miles between myself and the place I’d called home for six years. Ironically enough, that distance has released me from being tethered to the constant uprooting in my childhood.

I stand in deep gratitude for the doors that I’ve walked through in the last three years. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that when you grow up with very little, you sometimes revert back to a poverty mindset. I work as a Teaching Associate at UCLA, have received fellowships that make getting through school bearable, and somehow still default to the unhealthy thought that each dollar spent might not come back. It was a tool that once saved my life, but admittedly no longer serves me.

One of my spiritual and artistic mentors, Carlton V Bell II (aka “auntie c.j.”), has taught me a lot, but the manifestation that relaxes my shoulders and relieves tension every day is simply: “I do not have to worry about money; it is meant to be spent and will, therefore always return to me.” Manifestation carries as much power as you give it, kind of like astrology or whatever else baby Gen Z relentlessly champions on TikTok. But there is a spiritual thread inherent to manifestation that grounds the mind, body, and soul in an intrinsic belonging.
I manifested my move to Los Angeles a year before it happened; I manifested the various loves that have entered and exited my life in the last three years; I must manifest the future in spite of the challenges of the present.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
My work as a director and writer revolves around embodying Blackness and Queerness by exploding tropes and deepening connection to history through revision. Any piece touched, rehearsal room walked into, or narrative constructed disrupts and exposes so that my fellow collaborators and I can begin a healing process; art is my activism!

Between 2019–2022, I directed on projects and have guest lectured as an Associate Artistic Partner with the Birmingham Black Repertory Theater Collective, including the Southeastern premiere of “Sugar In Our Wounds” by Donja R. Love, directed by Damone Williams. Even during the height of the pandemic (the pandemonium? Pandora’s Box?) in 2020, we pushed through the weight of the unknown and connected in spite of pressure to sequester through creating the dance opera “Is Anybody Out There?” by Carlton V Bell II and a hybrid live and pre-recorded piece “Disconnect” co-directed by myself and Roy Lightner.

In 2021, I was selected as part of the inaugural cohort of the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program, a program dedicated to “uplifting & supporting the next generation of theatrical leadership of color.” Through that door, I’ve met some of those I anticipate will be lifelong friends and collaborators.

In 2022, I made my Off-Broadway debut as Associate Director to Zhailon Levingston (“Chicken & Biscuits”, “Tina”) at 2nd Stage Theater. That same summer, I signed with arraygency, an agency that “brings Black, Brown, Queer, and Trans people and their stories to the forefront of all creative industries.”

At UCLA, I am currently mounting a production of “Tell Me I’m Gorgeous at the End of the World: The Last Gay Play” by Aaron Coleman, a 2022 Yale Drama Series shortlist play about tropes within the gay Fire Island community. While our opening on June 8th is by no means a world premiere, I am grateful to stage this play for the first time with brilliant fellow UCLA MFA designers Emma Beeman, Gabe Rodriguez, Jay Tyson, and Malick Ceesay, among many other talented names.

This summer, I am working as a Resident Artist with BBRTC once again, this time mounting workshop productions of “Afro Tales,” directed by Devin Ty Franklin, and “School Girls, or: The African Mean Girls Play” by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Aija Penix.

As a writer, I feel as though I’ve really begun to find my voice in the last handful of years. In fall 2022, my play “Texas for Four More Years” was selected to be developed with Reach LA and Pothos Arts & Theater House’s inaugural Hantext Queer + PoC Playwriting Group, followed by a workshop reading at East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater in 2023. My play explores a richly textured North Texas landscape on which a Black, Queer teenager’s life is veered off-course (or is it veered on-course?) by an older, therapized version of themselves while reckoning with the stigma of HIV and dissolution of family dynamics.

I stay in a learning mindset no matter what direction my career takes me.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
There is a lot to love and a lot to… I won’t say hate! But a lot to complain about. When I first moved here in 2021, I spent the summer working as an Uber Eats driver. Let me just say that spoiled my experience driving in the city for a hot sec. I think everyone pretends to know how to drive here and pretends to not care about the people around them. But put everybody together on a much-too-narrow 405 between 3 and 7pm? Suddenly people are pretty passionate about having their way.
I will say there’s nothing better than having vegan restaurants and desserts (Sidecar Donuts has no compare) a stone’s throw outside my door. You won’t find much of that back in the South!

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Image Credits
Images by Las Fotos Project, Anna Giovingo, Ricardo Sebastián, and Ricardo Lopez.

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