To know Parker Playhouse founders Nancie Tobison and Ellen Werksman is to know two women who truly know the joy community theater can bring.
Having crossed paths when teaching at Barrington High School, the two united forces in 2015 to launch Parker Playhouse, a theater named after Marc Parker, a Barrington resident and long-time supporter of the arts who recently passed away. Today, Tobison and Werksman serve as artistic directors for Parker Playhouse.
Parker Playhouse is a non-profit organization supporting the artistic growth of performing artists by providing a venue for presentation and education. They work in collaboration with the Barrington High School Performing Arts Endowment founded by Parker and The Dancewerks Studio, which is directed by Werksman—a career dancer who has trained with Robert Joffrey and the Hubbard Street Dance Company to name just a few. In addition, the space is also the home of Barrington Community Theatre.
“Parker Playhouse is an intimate space that offers a different perspective on the art of live theater,” explains Tobison, a Grammy Award-nominated teacher, having been selected from a field of 7,000 nominations—Tobison was included in the top 10. “People are missing the real magic of live theater. What we produce is going to be heartfelt magic, not the glitz and showbiz that we often get from Hollywood,” she says.
The goal of the Parker Playhouse is to provide Barrington and neighboring communities with an event and theater space that can showcase performers of all ages and allow for artistic development and project-based presentations. The theater offers a season of self-produced performances.
“Nancie and I truly want this to be a community space, where various artists feel welcome to use it,” Werksman says. “Our goal is to showcase as may art forms as possible, not just put on shows the two of us think the locals will enjoy.”
But the duo does seem to have have a knack for tapping into what the community likes to see. On November 25, Tobison will direct “Bring ‘Em Home,” a night where talented artistic alumni return to the stage for an evening of entertainment. The inspiration for this show came to life under Parker, who wanted to show the community the level of performing excellence that was cultivated in Barrington. Then on December 17 and 18, Barrington Community Theatre will offer a retro-flashback holiday show featuring song, dance, sing-a-longs, holiday happenings, and more. And on January 22, Josie Croll and Diane Bergan will star in “Dear Mrs. Martin.”
The recipe to Parker Playhouse’s success seems to be baked in the chemistry that Tobison and Werksman share. “We have an undeniable mutual respect for one another,” Werksman explains. “We have different strengths but the same vision for what Parker Playhouse can be.”
“When we brainstorm,” Tobison adds, “the creativity is limitless. Sometimes we need to reign our ideas back in,” she says with a laugh. “But our goal is to produce performances at the highest level of excellence.”
Tobison and Werksman are gracious with their expertise and resources. “We work with Sharon Schmidt as our Community Theater Costumer. Our costume closet is one of the best out there—and we’re happy to open it to those who work with us,” Werksman says.
Parker Playhouse is committed to being a “community theater,” but that takes more involvement than its art directors alone can provide. “Our community is filled with talented actors, singers, and dancers,” says Werksman. “We hope to inspire them to bring their gifts to the stage, in various formats, for years to come.”
Parker Playhouse is located at 117 East Northwest Highway in Barrington, parkerplayhousebarrington.org.