Since performing magic shows as a kid, Tom Parrish always dreamed of a life in the theater. He was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in his Michigan high school. But to follow his passion, Parrish had to overcome societal and familial expectations, which led to his appointment as managing director at Berkeley Rep.
Since January, when Susie Medak, Berkeley Rep’s managing director of 32 years, announced she was stepping down, the search committee of the Rep’s board, through Art Consulting Group, has conducted a comprehensive international search for a new managing director. Nearly 70 diverse applicants were reviewed before the Rep selected Tom Parrish, a veteran theater executive, producer, and consultant. He will join Johanna Pfaelzer, the Rep’s artistic director, full-time on Sept. 12 and will relocate with his partner to the Bay Area from New York City. Medak will continue in her position until Aug. 31.
For the past 19 years, Parrish has been a theater executive or senior leader, 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 theater works, including over 30 world premieres, 11 of which were world premiere commissions. Parrish has worked as an executive or senior leader at several notable theater companies, including Trinity Repertory Company (Rhode Island), Geva Theatre Center (Rochester, New York), and San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Parrish holds an M.B.A. and an M.A. in Arts Administration from Southern Methodist University and a B.A. in Theater Arts and Economics from Case Western Reserve University. He also attended several graduate-level theater management and diversity training programs.
In a conversation with Berkeleyside, Parrish spoke about how he followed his passion for a life in the theater and his expectations for his new life in Berkeley. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Welcome to Berkeley! Are you familiar with our city?
I’ve only been here once before for a national theater meeting that happened to be headquartered at the Rep, but I like Berkeley. It has a college town feel with an artsy vibe. I’m looking forward to getting to know it better. My fiancé, Steve, and I hope to find a place to live in a walkable Berkeley neighborhood near shops and restaurants. Steve went to Cal and Hastings Law and has deep connections and family in the area, so moving here keeps us close to family.
What’s your history with the arts community?
I’ve been engaged in the arts since I was very young when I gave magic shows in my backyard and did theater in Novi, Michigan, outside of Detroit.
Do you come from a theatrical family?
Not at all. I started out pre-med at Case Western with a theater minor. When I realized I was going into medicine for the wrong reasons, I decided to pursue theater. My parents were less than thrilled and encouraged me to get a business degree as well. I switched to a double major in economics and theater. After I realized that I was not going to cut it as an actor and had produced my first show, I learned that theater management was a profession, so I finished college and then went to graduate school for arts administration.
Do you regret leaving acting?
No! My skills are much more suited to being behind the stage, not on it.
If you could go back and look at your high school self, would you ever have thought that you would have wound up where you are now?
I am happy and proud that I was brave enough to follow my heart and my passion instead of meeting societal and family expectations.
Any final words to Berkeleyside readers?
Yes, I am honored and thrilled to be entrusted with stewarding Berkeley Rep. And I look forward to getting to know everyone. This is home for me now, and it’s a great artistic home.