Tom Parrish named new Berkeley Rep general manager
Ever since he performed magic shows as a child, Tom Parrish has always dreamed of a life in the theater. He was voted “most likely to succeed” at his high school in Michigan. But to follow his passion, Parrish had to overcome societal and family expectations, which led to his appointment as chief executive of Berkeley Rep.
Since January, when Susie Medak, Berkeley Rep’s chief executive of 32 years, announced she was stepping down, Rep’s board search committee, through Art Consulting Group, has been conducting an international search in-depth to find a new managing director. Nearly 70 diverse applications were considered before the representative selected Tom Parrish, a seasoned theater manager, producer and consultant. He will join Johanna Pfaelzer, the artistic director of the Rep, full-time on September 12 and will move with his partner to the Bay Area from New York. Medak will retain his post until August 31.
For the past 19 years, Parrish has served as a theater manager or senior executive, spanning all functional arts management disciplines in organizations ranging from multi-venue performing arts centers to Tony Award-winning theater companies. He has produced over 140 theatrical works, including over 30 world premieres, 11 of which were world premiere commissions. Parrish has worked as an executive or senior executive with several notable theater companies, including Trinity Repertory Company (Rhode Island), Geva Theater Center (Rochester, New York), and San Diego Repertory Theater.
Parrish holds an MBA and Master of Arts Administration from Southern Methodist University and a BA in Theatre, Arts and Economics from Case Western Reserve University. He has also completed several graduate-level theater management and diversity training programs.
In a chat with Berkeleyside, Parrish opened up about how he followed his passion for a life in theater and his expectations for his new life in Berkeley. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Welcome to Berkeley! Do you know our city?
I’ve only been here once before for a national theater reunion which was at Rep headquarters, but I like Berkeley. It has a college town feel with an artsy vibe. I look forward to getting to know him better. My fiancé, Steve, and I are hoping to find housing in a walkable area of Berkeley, close to shopping and restaurants. Steve went to Cal and Hastings Law and has deep ties and family in the area, so moving here keeps us close to family.
What is your history with the artistic community?
I have been involved in the arts since I was very young when I performed magic shows in my backyard and did theater in Novi, Michigan, outside of Detroit.
Do you come from a theatrical family?
No way. I started my premed at Case Western with a minor in theater. When I realized I was going to medical school for the wrong reasons, I decided to go into acting. My parents weren’t thrilled and encouraged me to get a business degree as well. I went on to double major in economics and drama. After realizing I wasn’t going to cut it as an actor and producing my first show, I learned that theater management was a profession, so I finished college, then went to the Graduate School of Arts Administration.
Do you regret leaving comedy?
Nope! My skills are much more suited to being behind the stage, not on it.
If you could go back and look back at your high school, would you ever think you would have gotten to where you are now?
I am happy and proud to have had the courage to follow my heart and my passion instead of responding to societal and family expectations.
A final word to Berkeleyside readers?
Yes, I am honored and thrilled to be entrusted with the stewardship of Berkeley Rep. And I can’t wait to get to know everyone. It’s my house now, and it’s a big artistic house.
Longtime East Bay resident Emily S. Mendel has been Berkeleyside’s freelance theater and arts critic since 2012.