By ANGYE MORRISON
John Parcels has been around the world but when he accepted a teaching position at Georgia Southern University and moved to Statesboro, he knew he was home.
After spending three years in Valdosta, Parcels grew up in the farming area of South New Jersey, and attended Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He later attended Emory for graduate school, and studied at the United Nations, as well as studying Buddhism in Thailand and Islam in Kuwait and Syria.
A single parent since his daughters were 3 and 13, Parcels has three grandchildren now. He still cares for one of his daughters, who became physically disabled from illness.
Parcels is a retired Assistant Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, having retired in 2005. He began teaching at GSU in 1972, hired to teach Philosophy and English. He says he misses the students, but “not the grading or the meetings.”
He always knew that he wanted to be a teacher.
“I’ve always been drawn to teaching,” he said, “thinking of it as helping people who wanted to learn something.”
He’s held many jobs along the way, and loved them all he said, but teaching was always calling his name.
“I had opportunities to make much more money in other fields, including marketing, which I worked at as an avocation all my adult life, starting in high school. But I’ve always felt a sense of calling to teach. If I know something people would like to learn, I want to be there for them,” he said.
Parcels said his father was an artist and played in a drum and bugle corps, and his sisters were dancers, so he grew up with an appreciation of art, dance and music. That love and appreciation has led him to the stage at the Averitt Center for the Arts, and he has been in many productions over the years.
“My first time on the Averitt stage was to give a public lecture on Islamic art. Later, I was asked to fill in for someone who had dropped out of ‘The Nutcracker’ just a couple of weeks before performance,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but always try to respond when someone needs help, so I went down to check it out.”
He was encouraged by Juris Safanovs, who was the choreographer for the production, to learn the steps and to take a different part. He ended up dancing as “Grandfather.”
“Although I was scared to death, it went well, and several people urged me to audition for “The Music Man.’ I would not have, but Karin Scarpinato made me promise I would,” he said. “That led to everything else.”
The “everything else” he refers to is the many roles he has played. Since that first ballet in 2013, Parcels has been in seven more ballets, and 21 plays at the Averitt. He’s also acted in dozens of plays elsewhere, and has had roles in 12 student films at GSU and Savannah College of Art and Design, as well as in three films. He served as assistant director for “Steel Magnolias,” directed by Tony Phillips.
When he’s not in a production, Parcels volunteers as an usher and acts as photographer for productions.
When asked which part has been his favorite, he says he’s loved them all.
“I’ve liked every part, large or small. But I especially liked playing John Clark in ‘Calendar Girls,’ because it had a wide range of emotions. Close to it would be Jonathan, the psychopathic killer in ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’ I love playing bad guys. Marley’s ghost was special too, because the lines were so wonderfully written,” Parcels said of his part in “A Christmas Carol.”
He says he’d love to play Emile de Bacque in “South Pacific,” because he loves the music in that production, and it’s in his range.
Community theater is something Parcels has come to enjoy because of the teamwork of those involved.
“It’s been my age-old substitute for team sports. I love seeing people work hard at improving and being successful. I get a high out of excellence of all kinds, and I see a lot of it here. I enjoy rehearsals as much as the performances,” he said.
Being on stage, he said, is “nothing special,” because “I’m focused on interacting with the others on stage. It’s like a rehearsal with an audience.”
Even so, Parcels says being on stage has helped him to become more comfortable being in front of others, but he says he has no craving to be there.
“I’ve never had a desire to be up in front of people. I take a lot of pleasure in seeing the others in the cast perform, cheering for them inside. I’m happy when it’s a win for both them and the audience,” he said.
When preparing for a role, Parcels takes the advice of local theater legend Mical Whitaker — first, “get” the character.
“I begin by reading everything as if to my children, and then adjusting, getting insights as rehearsals go on,” he said. “To learn lines, I go over them at bedtime to let my brain work on them overnight, something I learned to do when studying for tests and later giving lectures.”
He said he goes to bed going over all he’s memorized and wakes up doing the same.
“I also speak the lines quietly all day long as I work, drive or whatever. I try to get off book as soon as possible so I am free to work with the part and develop it through the many rehearsals. If there is dancing or singing, I go through the steps or songs many times a day,” he added.
Parcels says he welcomes critiques from the director or anyone else.
“I constantly learn from others in the cast, even the young ones like Claire Kennedy, Josh Murray and Julian Schwartz. Sometimes the talent in these casts is amazing,” he said.
Even after so many productions, Parcels says that auditions are tough. He also finds that learning the dance steps required can be challenging, and the range in which he has to sing can also be a struggle. But he’s taken dance and voice lessons to help improve his performance.
“My first goal is always, don’t let the director down. I also don’t want to let down my cast mates and the paying audience,” he said.
The best part of participating in the productions, for Parcels, has been making new friends and the opportunity to try new things and learn new skills.
“It’s also exciting to be interacting with so many good performers; singers and dancers, as well as actors. I love the teamwork, and seeing people commit to something and make it happen. I feel privileged to be included,” he said.
Parcels says what the Averitt Center brings to the community is “exceptional,” providing opportunities for all to learn and grow as artists and performers.
“I wish it had been there when my children were young,” he said. “There is a joy for everyone in learning something new, developing skills and growing in new ways.”
The biggest impact, he says, is on the young people of the community.
“Having been a teacher, I’m particularly taken by activities that, though fun, require discipline and practice. Those things carry over in life, as will the teamwork,” he said.
Parcels says he’d love to see more people in the community take advantage of all that is offered at the Averitt.
“I’ve found that relatively few residents have much idea of what takes place there beyond plays and musical performances. There really is something for everybody, many requiring no prior skill,” he said. “It would be nice to have a larger theater someday, but more important is simple participation.”
Parcels is grateful to all the directors and cast mates who have stood with him and by him on his journey. He says this includes Alan Tyson, Brooks Adams, Bethany DeZelle, Susan Jackson, Eileen Baines, Christie McLendon, Joe Morgan, Nichole Deal, Robert Cottle, Hadley Campbell, Nora Franklin and Whitaker.
But especially, he says, to Scarpinato, “who would not let me say no to auditioning,” he said.