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Broach founder leaves legacy

by Amy Kingsley

 

A memorial service for Hall Parrish will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Sedgefield Presbyterian Church.

 

Hall Parrish bundled 11 roles into his last acting gig at Greensboro’s Broach Theatre. He played Sheriff Givens, Aunt Pearl Burris, Bertha Bumiller and eight other characters in December’s A Tuna Christmas. And he did it to packed houses and standing ovations. Two weeks after closing, he received a devastating diagnosis: Late-stage appendiceal cancer — a rare and deadly disease. Doctors gave him three to six more months. He exceeded that, living to see the 2008- 2009 season opener, Dixie Swim Club. But his battle ended Sept. 3, when Parrish passed at the home he shared with partner Stephen Gee. And that’s when Greensboro lost one-half of the pioneering theater team that founded the Broach Theater 21 years ago. “We opened the Broach because it allowed us to do what we love doing,” Gee said. Both men had ties to Greensboro that predated the opening of the Broach in 1987. UNCG’s theater program trained both in their craft, and the Barn Dinner Theatre provided a professional home when they started their careers. The pair met in Knoxville, Tenn. at a dinner theater where they were working. Seven years later they hatched the idea of starting their own theater. “After seven years of using license plates as addresses,” Gee said, “both of us were really burned out.” It wasn’t just the traveling that had soured them on theater, but also the flimsy scripts they encountered at places where main courses commanded more audience attention than performances. The Broach Theatre would offer more substantial fare, they said, but no actual food. Actors and directors who worked with Parrish remembered his passion and dedication. “He was the consummate professional,” Gee said. “If he was doing a really good script, he was the most text-accurate person out there.” One time, Gee said, the actor corrected another performer who buried a reaction line. “She thought, ‘Oh, I just met the biggest asshole on the planet,’” he said. On opening night, Parrish was vindicated when the “Oh” she had been cutting off brought the house down. Parrish also directed, and one of the people he directed — and who directed him — was Deborah Kintzing. She, Gee and Parrish were the principals responsible for bringing Tuna to Greensboro audiences during the past decade. “I’ve acted with him onstage,” Kintzing said, “I’ve directed with him and I’ve been directed by him. In all three situations, I think he was a very generous theater person. He was very giving as an actor, always very willing to help those relationships develop.” Parrish’s influence encompassed more than the Broach’s small stage and cramped dressing rooms. His was the first theater to make its home on South Elm Street, on the bad side of a derelict downtown. Now the area is bustling, a development that owes its existence to the block’s thriving cultural scene. “When we first moved onto South Elm,” Gee said, “if you looked north to downtown, it looked like a post-apocalyptic movie set. There were buildings, but there weren’t any people.”

When he turned 50, Parrish became the administrator of a scholarship created in his honor. Recipients received $1,000 to spend however they saw fit. That meant they could spend it on tuition, headshots, clothes, whatever they needed to advance their acting career. Each year a panel of six theater professionals evaluated scholarship applicants, sometimes spending hours trying to determine who would receive the award. “[Parrish] believed in training,” Gee said. “He thought that you had to be a trained actor, that it took not just talent but also technique.” Parrish’s own dedication to the craft caught the eye of his alma mater, Brevard College, a two-year institution in western North Carolina. The school inducted him into its Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003. But most people who saw him onstage will not remember him as an alumnus of Brevard College. They’ll remember him as Bertha, Aunt Pearl, Dixie Deberry or as any of the other characters he breathed life into at the Broach. “I always thought that a A Tuna Christmas would be such a beautiful swan song,” Kintzing said. “Just to go out knowing how much the audience and community appreciates you.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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