W. Oren Parker
What can one say about a legend? Anyone who has studied theatre design over the past 50 years knows the name W. Oren Parker. Over time, he officially served on the faculties of Yale, University of Texas, and Carnegie Mellon University, but his knowledge and his passion for the theatre touched every student of design throughout the country.
His book, Scenic Techniques, was the first to standardize drafting for theatre and Scene Design and Stage Lighting, written in collaboration with Harvey Smith in 1963 and now in its eighth edition, was the definitive text for designers planning to enter the profession.
When I first met Oren, it was difficult to come to terms with meeting the man whose words and wisdom of design I knew so well from my own theatre education. How could this "name" actually be living flesh? Yet here was this very soft-spoken, gentle soul with a wonderfully dry sense of humor and a particularly warm and winning smile, and very alive he was.
Oren had a terrific zeal for life and continued to pursue design in many forms almost until his death, studying books on the history, design, and evolution of furniture, collecting masks an folk carvings, and ultimately creating his own pottery masks.
He inspired hundreds of designers over his very long and successful teaching career. His absolute love of architecture and furniture was obvious to anyone who took his History of Architecture and Décor class (affectionately known as "Pots and Pans" which he no doubt thought was hilarious) if only from the sheer volume of information and detail involved. His dedication to teaching was unbeatable.
Mr. Parker was born and raised in Michigan where he met his wife, Thelma (known as Teschie). He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and his master's degree from Yale University in 1940. He joined the faculty of Yale and remained there until becoming professor of drama at Carnegie-Mellon University (then Carnegie Tech) in 1963. He retired in 1976.
Oren joined USITT in 1963 and was elected a Fellow in 1986, the same year he received one of the Institute's highest honors, the USITT Award, for his work as designer, educator, and author.
In 2001 the Institute created the W. Oren Parker Scene Design Award sponsored by Stage Decoration & Supplies, Inc. That award is given annually to an individual who has demonstrated excellence or outstanding potential in the area of scenic design in the performing arts while pursuing an undergraduate degree. This award was the first of USITT's Awards for Young Designers & Technicians in the Performing Arts aimed at undergraduate students. It is fitting, and I am sure that it would thrill Oren to know, that it was given this year at the Annual Conference & Stage Expo to Adam Koch, a student at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.