In the Director’s Chair: Pippin Parker Takes the Lead at The New School for Drama

Playwright Pippin Parker takes the helm of New School Drama. Photo by Don Hamerman.

Oblivious to the rolling eyes of the rest of the world, New Yorkers know their city is the center of the universe. While in certain respects this status might be up for debate, there’s no doubt that with theater scenes from Broadway to Off Broadway to off-the-map, Manhattan truly is the heart of the theater world.

No one knows this better than Pippin Parker. Parker has long been a fixture in New York’s downtown theater circles. A founding member and former artistic director of the influential theater company Naked Angels, Parker has written and directed award-winning plays in New York for decades. This summer, Parker began a different kind of directing job when he took the reins at The New School for Drama, a position that allows him to remain at the center of the (theater) universe.

The New School for Drama has deep connections to downtown theater,, says Parker. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s LAByrinth, Naked Angels, Atlantic, the Flea, HERE Theater, these companies all have robust, sustained links to The New School through faculty and alumni. If there is a larger conversation about theater going on, The New School is a part of it.,

Parker began his tenure at The New School in 2005 in the Playwriting department, joining just in time to take part in a period of transformation at the school. In the past six years, Drama has sought to broaden its teaching approach by separating from the Actor’s Studio and has linked technique training to practice by bringing the disciplines of voice and movement into the Acting department. Drama has also continued to strengthen its connections to New York theater, adding award-winning authors Christopher Shinn, Laura Maria Censabella, and Jon Robin Baitz to the playwriting faculty and launching the Artist-in-Residence program, which this year brings Tony-nominated actor Kathleen Chalfant to campus.

We’ve evolved a lot in the past few years,, Parker says, but that evolution’s not over.,

Indeed, in response to a theater landscape altered by the recession, Parker now seeks to add professional education to students’ artistic training.

The ability to create opportunities is critical for artists today,, he says. We’re now teaching our students how to start a theater company, how to write grants, and how to make opportunities for themselves as individual performers. That’s the responsible track for us.,

But the new Drama director doesn’t lose sleep about his graduates’ prospects. With recent graduates like New Voices/New York fellow Bekah Brunstetter (Playwriting ’08), Town Hall Rising Star Tristan Morris (Acting ’11), and two Samuel French Award winners in 2011, the school has an enviable track record.

To Parker, their success is no surprise. Our students are really what makes us stand out,, he says. They’re offbeat and unique; they’re not the students you would expect to see in another MFA program, and that’s because we’re not trying to be another theater program.,