Ron OJ Parson is an accomplished actor and director. As an actor, he has performed with Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf, Black Ensemble and ETA Creative Arts theater companies, and he recently directed Let Me Live at the Goodman Theatre.
Parson returns to The Goodman to direct the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat by playwright Lynn Nottage. Rolling out spoke with Parson about his perspective as a director and why the theater is important to Black culture.
What has acting allowed you to discover about yourself?
I have been directing since I was a teenager, so it did help me in every facet of my life. Communication is something we need in every facet of our lives. Acting and directing have allowed me to be in touch with my spirit in a lot of ways. Having explored myself as both actor and director … has helped me find my inner soul, and I have searched inside myself to find characters and bring stories to life. It does take its toll, however, but in the end, it allows us to reach deep inside.
What would you say your mission is as a director?
The mission is to be a leader and bring forth the vision of the playwright as best you can. I believe [it’s] getting the audience to feel the work in their spirit — not just to see it and hear it, but to feel it as well. I love to collaborate with the writer and the words on the page and bring them to life without getting in the way or overpowering what the playwright is intending. It is about the writer and what they are trying to bring forth.
Discuss the importance of the theater with respect to Black culture. How does it inform the culture?
For me, it is always about educating and entertaining. But theater, in my eyes, is revolutionary. It can change lives. In particular, in my culture, being African American, it brings me closer to my own roots. Knowing our past helps inform our future, and theater for me has always been that vessel.
Why has Sweat been able to touch so many, and how is it relevant in these political times?
Sweat brings together the common man and issues that affect us all — White, Black, Latino, young and old. The issues in the play touch us all. I love plays that are able to do just that. These issues make us think and reflect on the world today and tomorrow and how we fit in. Little did Lynn know it would be as relevant as it is.
Who is the most influential person in Black History when it comes to you and your craft?
Sweat will be staged at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago March 9-April 14, 2019.