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‘Mr. Parent’ explores actor’s experience teaching in public schools

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Open enrollment at Lyric Stage
Maurice Emmanuel Parent COURTESY OF LYRIC STAGE

Maurice Emmanuel Parent has become a beloved fixture of the Boston theater scene since his arrival in the city in 2006. But his rise to theatrical success wasn’t always the well-choreographed dance it is now. In his early years in Boston, Parent worked a day job in the Boston Public School system and performed on nights and weekends.

From those formative experiences has risen “Mr. Parent,” a one-man show at Lyric Stage performed by Parent, written by Melinda Lopez, and directed and co-conceptualized by Megan Sandberg-Zakian. Running at Lyric Stage Jan. 13–Feb. 6, the play explores Parent’s two careers and his struggle to balance them.

“Mr. Parent” director, Megan Sandberg-Zakian and actor Maurice Emmanuel Parent. PHOTO: MARK S. HOWARD

“Mr. Parent” was conceived completely unintentionally during lunch breaks, the actor says. A natural entertainer, Parent found himself telling tales of his teaching days to fellow cast members during rehearsal lulls. While working on The Huntington’s “Skeleton Crew,” director Sandberg-Zakian suggested Parent might have a solo show on his hands. She connected him with Lopez.

“For the next eight months or a year, we would just be meeting periodically and I would just tell story after story, and Melinda would ask questions,” says Parent. “She took the stories, pulled out a narrative and then looped in some of the dialogue from shows I was doing at various points. And that grew to ‘Mr. Parent.’”

Though written before the pandemic, the questions of equity, access and supporting all children to their fullest have only become more pressing, as have concerns about public educators being pushed to a breaking point. The performance probes important questions, but with the humor and charm that exudes from Parent himself.

“It’s kind of surreal to encounter her dramatized version of my life and my history,” says Parent.  “It’s my life, but it’s also dramatized; it’s a piece of theater.” He says the most challenging part of piecing together his past was having a dialogue with the actor of 2012, a completely different person from who he is now. Though he no longer works in the public school system, Parent is now a Tufts University professor of the practice, theatre, dance and performance studies in addition to his acting career.

“Mr. Parent” has appeared in a few work-in-progress forms, but this performance is a completely new rendition of the show, utilizing contributions from Parent’s former colleague Neema Avashia, a teacher who served as the public education consultant for the production. Avashia brings information about policy, systemic structures and inequities, and the history of the Massachusetts education system to the project. These contributions further ground the performance in our current moment.

“All of our choices as residents of this state, we are all part of the education system of our young people,” says Parent. “It’s super important that we know how our system is working.”

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