Published in KPBS On Air Magazine May 1998

When he first told his parents he was going to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, they asked, “Are they any good?”   They were, and so was he.   Manchester-born Chris Parry went from apprentice to resident lighting designer for the RSC.   When he made his first trip to California in 1985, with the acclaimed production of “Nicholas Nickleby”, it was love at first sight.

So when, four years later, he was asked to apply for a teaching position at UCSD, he leapt at the chance. Though he never earned a college degree, he’s now a full professor and head of the graduate lighting design program at UCSD, whose drama department was recently rated third in the country.

“The first thing I tell my students is that I had no formal education. Just to let them know you can get somewhere by non-traditional means.”

Parry tries to run the lighting program like the English apprentice system. “I see myself more as a mentor than a teacher. Each year, I only accept one or two students.   I take them with me to assist in all my jobs.”

Those jobs are transcontinental and transatlantic. Parry won a Tony Award, a Dora (Canadian Tony) and an Olivier (British Tony) for the jaw-dropping lighting of “The Who’s Tommy” (which originated at the La Jolla Playhouse).   He’s garnered 19 major industry awards, and in 1994, he was named Lighting Designer of the Year by the trade magazine Lighting Dimensions International.

Now, he’s turning his attention to the opening production of the 1998 La Jolla Playhouse season, the San Diego premiere of “Nora” (previews May 19-23; runs May 24-June 21).   The play is film genius Ingmar Bergman’s starkly chilling, contemporary version of Henrik Ibsen’s anti-Victorian masterpiece, “A Doll’s House”. One Scandinavian deconstructing the work of another.

Ibsen’s social satire, which premiered in Copenhagen in 1879, was scandalous, primarily because Nora, the precious plaything of her stern husband, evolves into a self-actualized, independent woman. Bergman’s 1981 adaptation has retained much of Ibsen’s original dialogue, but has pared down the story to a complex portrait of universal relationships.

The Playhouse production is directed by Les Waters, with scenic and costume design by his wife, Annie Smart.

“Her set creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere at the beginning,” Parry explains. “The feeling is of Edvard Munch’s Scandinavian style of painting.   Very abstract and spare.   Very heavy and oppressive at first, becoming more clear, sharp and focused as Nora realizes what she has to do to escape.”

Red will be Parry’s predominant color, but the final scene will be “very white, extremely bright, kind of abstracted, almost like a cell… I always tell my students, ‘Don’t try to act for the actor. There’s no such thing as an angry color.   Just try to create an atmosphere actors can act in.’”

©1998 Patté Productions Inc.