'Booming bass'

10/16/15

Parker brings distinctive sound to stage, air

BLUFFTON, Ohio—Alex Parker came to Bluffton University in 2012 with a deep voice and a dream.

OK, maybe not a dream, at least when it came to his voice. “I didn’t think it would do anything for me,” says the senior from Alger, Ohio.

But his time at Bluffton has changed his opinion, as he approaches graduation with experience acquired both on stage and in radio, where his career thoughts are leaning.

Right now, Parker’s busy prepping for the lead role in the university’s fall production of “Smash.” In the comedy of manners by Jeffrey Hatcher, he tests his vocal talents as (a) an aristocratic British socialist who (b) goes underground as a commoner, with plans to overthrow the government.

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s novel, “An Unsocial Socialist,” the play will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29-31 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 1 in Ramseyer Auditorium in College Hall. Reserved tickets, $8 for adults and $6 for senior citizens (65 and over) and non-Bluffton students, are available online at http://tickets.bluffton.edu or at the Marbeck Center information desk between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily.

Last spring, Parker used a British accent to play an over-the-top Prince Charming—among other characters—in a student-directed mashup/parody of Grimm fairy tales. But for the role of Sidney Trefusis in “Smash,” with its two dialects, he’s working with a coach, Dr. Crystal Sellers Battle, an associate professor of music. As a graduate student, she once lived in England and later did voice-related research.

Differences between the dialects include the drawn-out vowels and “focus on adjectives” among British aristocrats, versus the fast-talking, “don’t-really-care-if-they’re-understood” speech of commoners, says Parker, who’s learning both in several sessions with Sellers Battle.

“It has been interesting getting Alex to work on not using his booming bass voice to help to differentiate between his two characters,” she says. “He’s doing well with it, but it’s a new horizon for him.”  

“Smash” is Parker’s third fall play at Bluffton, where he played three characters each in “Well” as a sophomore and in “The Skin of Our Teeth” last year. The public relations major also “appeared” in the 2014 May Day musical, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” but only via his voice.

Sellers Battle, music director for the production, asked him to personify the book of the same name, which talks back to the musical’s main character, J. Pierrepont Finch, as he reads it. Parker agreed and subsequently sat down in campus radio station WBWH with the director, Dr. Melissa Friesen, and recorded his dozen or so lines.

“It was two hours, and I was done,” he says, expressing interest in possible future voiceover work as well. It allows the performer to be “part of the show, but you can also go and watch”—and see how the actors on stage react to the voice. “That was the fun part of the show for me,” Parker says.

It wasn’t the only one, though. In the audience one night, he overheard a nearby man react to the talking book with the words, “Man, that guy’s got a voice,” he recalls with a grin.

But he’s heard the same thing directly from others for quite a while.

His voice changed “sometime around high school” at Upper Scioto Valley, he says, remembering a teacher telling him that “you don’t sound like a kid anymore.”

“It was a quick transition,” adds Parker, who was thinking about pursuing criminal justice at Bluffton but hearing suggestions from teachers and classmates that he try broadcasting, and more specifically, radio.

Soon after his first fall semester on campus started, he answered a question in an interpersonal communication class and was asked to see the professor, Dr. Dan Fultz, afterward. “I thought I was in trouble,” he says, but Fultz just wanted to talk to him about getting on the air on WBWH.

That happened shortly thereafter, when Parker met Daila Moore, then a sophomore, at a radio station meeting. “You’ve got a wonderful voice,” he recalls her saying. “You’re on my show now.”

He started “pretty much the next day; it was like a hostage takeover,” albeit a fun one, he notes. He hosted shows with his friend, a 2015 graduate, until last year, and has continued hosting since then. He has also been the WBWH program director for more than a year.

Off the air, Parker is also in his fourth year as part of a campus improvisation troupe and the track and field team, and his second year as a member of Fault Lines, a line dancing club.

“In his enthusiastic contributions to the campus community, Alex embraces the ‘yes, and’ maxim of improvisation,” says Friesen, a professor and chair of communication and theatre at Bluffton. “He says ‘yes’ to opportunities to perform, lead, learn and serve both onstage and off. By contributing his unique insights and abilities, he adds an ‘and’ to the equation, bringing humor, creativity and a positive attitude which inspires others to step up their game as well.

“Audience members are going to thoroughly enjoy the performances of Alex and the entire cast of ‘Smash’—I can’t wait to hear their response.” 

 -B-