Theater, Literature, and Shakespeare: Dr. Courtney Bailey Parker

by Mandy Pennington

Dr. Courtney Bailey Parker is Greenville College’s newest English professor and co-chair of the English department. Bailey Parker is multi-talented, as she also serves a large role in the Factory Theatre and directed her first play, T he Diviners, at the theatre this semester.

Bailey Parker is originally from a suburb of Atlanta, which she claims to still be her favorite city. She is the oldest child in her family, a status she said has been the defining identity of her life. Bailey Parker met her husband BJ while attending church. She explained, “My husband was my Sunday school teacher. I was an incredible student.” BJ is a talented artist who has contributed to both the Factory Theatre and the greater Greenville community.

Bailey Parker spent her freshman year of college studying acting at NYU’s Playwrights Horizons Theater School in New York City, and then ended up transferring to Mercer University, where she received a B.A. in English. She then went on to get her Master of Arts degree in Modern and Contemporary Drama, and her Ph.D. in English, with a focus in Renaissance Drama, both at Baylor University.

After enjoying her time as a student at Mercer University, Bailey Parker had a desire to teach at a similar college. “I wanted to work at a small liberal arts college, where I could teach a broad range of courses — drama included — and also be involved in the college’s theatre. My Ph.D. is in English, but I’m a Shakespearean by specialty, which makes theatre history and literature courses a natural fit for me,” Bailey Parker said. She found Greenville to be the perfect fit, and has enjoyed her experience on campus so far. “There is so much talent here, and a lot of it is untapped,” she exclaimed. “But people are hungry to create. That’s something I can work with.” Bailey Parker’s love for teaching stems from both her passion for literature and the desire to see her students also become passionate about literature. “I love it when a classroom reaches that ‘charged’ state, where people get so overwhelmed by the text at hand that time flashes by,” she said. “Another favorite part of teaching is finding people who have a knack for acting in my classes; whenever I call on students to read, that’s an example of me looking.” Accordingly, Bailey Parker’s favorite classes to teach are any that have to do with Shakespeare. She admitted, however, that she most enjoys teaching English 201: Introduction to Literary Study. “It’s a gateway course for the English major, but it also fulfills the general education requirement, so I get a wide range of students. The literary life is not something exclusive to English majors; the literary life is an orientation to the world built upon sensitivity, empathy, and passion. It’s open to all.”

When asked what inspired her love for literature and art, Bailey Parker jokingly replied, “Sports were hard. In all seriousness, though, I think people find their way to theatre and literature because they feel the world more intensely than others. This is certainly true for me. The theatre, in particular, is a lovely affirmation of that sensitivity.” Bailey Parker’s favorite authors and playwrights include William Shakespeare, Sarah Ruhl, Tony Kushner, Chaim Potok, Anne Sexton, Charlotte Bronte, and more. “I think every human should read George Eliot’s Middlemarch,” she said.

Bailey Parker has strong views when it comes to fitting secular literature into a Christian college classroom, or fitting God into an immoral piece of literature. “I think people abuse the pithy phrase, ‘all truth is God’s truth,’” she said. “I don’t agree with that. God is not that simple, and neither is the truth. Good literature is usually amoral.” Bailey Parker does not believe that God should be put into a little box and ‘fit’ into every piece of literature. “Most of the time, literature is more concerned with humans, not the divine. Even if it claims to be about the divine, it’s often actually about humans’ relationship to the divine.” She teaches a variety of literary works in her classrooms, and has a brilliant way of bringing the stories to life in a way that does not force God into a secular story, but lets the beauty of the art itself show the beauty of God.

Outside of the classroom, Bailey Parker is highly involved in the workings of the Factory Theatre and has been a great asset to the theater program so far. The Factory Theatre was one of the things that drew her to Greenville. “I was actually pretty undecided at the end of my on-campus interview at Greenville,” she admitted. “Everyone was so kind to me, but I was disappointed that I didn’t have an explicit ‘moment of recognition’ while being on campus. That changed the next morning, when I had coffee with Jes Adam before leaving for the airport. Never underestimate the power of finding a kindred spirit.” Adam and Bailey Parker worked together as director and assistant director for Next to Normal, and Adam played one of the main roles in The Diviners,the play Bailey Parker directed in April. He said of his colleague, “CBP brings a wealth of knowledge to The Factory Theatre. Dr. Bailey Parker’s Ph.D. work in Shakespeare, professional theatre resume, and heart for teaching makes her invaluable to the work we do. Not only was she assistant director for Next to Normal and director of The Diviners; she is a regular voice on The Factory Theatre Hour podcast and a contributing member of the Theatre’s leadership. Courtney has a remarkable knack for taking a germ of an idea and nurturing it to full growth. I’m excited about the future of The Factory Theatre, especially with Dr. Bailey Parker as a part of our team.”

Bailey Parker explained that her role as assistant director for Next to Normal was “a great introduction, not just to the talent we have in our community, but also the wonderful resource we have in the theatre facility itself. In Austin [her previous home], performance spaces are notoriously under-resourced (thanks to rising rents that ultimately push out the arts), so it was very encouraging to walk into a facility that, honestly, is ready for anything. There are obvious needs, but the theatre has good bones.”  

Bailey Parker’s philosophy on acting is one that perfectly fits a college like Greenville, one that has a thriving theatre but no theater major. “I believe in the liberally educated actor, so I tend to be skeptical of performers who have few interests outside of theatre,” Bailey Parker said.  “While I was in college, I studied for a year at Playwrights Horizons Theater School at NYU, which is affiliated with the Off-Broadway house, but I ultimately decided to be an English major and graduated from a small liberal arts college. I think part of that compulsion to not major in acting is my conviction that the theatre is an avenue for self-study. But self-study — done well — doesn’t work if it’s done in isolation from literature, history, science, or music. Actors should be fundamentally curious.”

Choosing from a wide range of characters and varying levels of theater experiences, Bailey Parker said that her favorite role to play was Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. She worked with an acting company while in Austin. “The company values pared-down performance of Shakespeare, so we performed outdoors and the actors sat in chairs upstage when they weren’t involved in a scene. In Shakespeare, the language is the special effect. I really appreciate it when theatre companies make the text the most important element of a performance.

In relating her faith to her love for theater, she said, “I think a theatre is just as sacred of a place as a church. People come to experience something magnificent together. Frequently, they are disappointed. But, every now and then, things come together and we build a thin place for ourselves in the theatre (or the church).” A thin place, a place that can inspire, stir, and disorient, is a term coined by the Celtic, and later, Christian traditions. Thin places are places such as cathedrals, breathtaking views of nature or even everyday places like bars that make you feel serenity. As Bailey Parker puts it, theatres can and should become thin places. “As theatre makers, though, we have to ask ourselves whether or not the plays we choose to produce are working toward that goal,” she said. “I am dedicated to the performance of meaningful plays. I think that’s a good test.”

Bailey Parker looks forward to directing more plays at GC, particularly Shakespeare and other non-musical plays. “I’ve spent a lot of my professional life doing musical theatre,” she said, “I’m looking forward to getting onstage a bit, too.”

We here at GC are more than thankful that Bailey Parker decided to join our faculty. In her first year here, she has already made a huge impact in the English department, at the Factory Theatre, and in the Greenville College community.

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