Parker Esse is currently the choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof at Arena Stage which begins performances on October 31st. This is Parker’s fifth production with Arena Stage and with artistic director Molly Smith. He previoulsy choreographed Arena Stage’s The Music Man (Helen Hayes nomination), critically acclaimed Oklahoma! (Helen Hayes Award), The Light in the Piazza and A Christmas Carol 1941. Also for Arena Stage, The Mystery of Irma Vep and last season’s Smokey Joe’s Café. Last fall Parker choreographed A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair, with music by Stephen Sondheim, starring Bernadette Peters and Norm Lewis. This was a special collaboration with New York City Center Encores! and Jazz at Lincoln Center. He also choreographed Fiddler on the Roof, The Most Happy Fella and Carousel for Goodspeed and Guys and Dolls for Shaw Festival Canada, where he will return next season to choreograph Sweet Charity. Parker was the associate choreographer for Broadway’s Tony-nominated Finian’s Rainbow and A Tale of Two Cities. Other associate director/choreographer work includes Kennedy Center, City Center Encores!, Goodspeed, Paper Mill and Asolo Rep. Parker was a featured performer in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Fosse, taped for PBS. He is currently in development with several Broadway-bound productions, including Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz and Bull Durham. As a performer Parker’s mentors include Baayork Lee, Ben Vereen, Ann Reinking and Gwen Verdon. Not too shabby. His favorite credit however is being husband to Maria and father to Jaden! Parker went from being a talented performer to a in demand choreographer. With Fiddler on the Roof he is presented with the challenge of taking the legendary choreography of Jerome Robbins and adapting it for the round in Arena Stage’s Fichander space. I’m curious myself to see how the Bottle Dance in particular is going to look. Guess we’ll all see together. If Fiddler on the Roof is anything like Parker’s previous work at Arena Stage, then I know that you or I won’t be disappointed.
What was your first professional job as a dancer?
Ironically, my first professional job was dancing was in the ensemble of Fiddler on the Roof at Galveston Island Outdoor Musicals. I played a Russian and a Bottle Dancer. It was my first of many summer stock jobs.
Jerome Robbins’s choreography for Fiddler on the Roof is legendary for many reasons. Is the Arena Stage production the first time it has been seen in the round and can you please tell us about the adjustments you have to make for this kind of a set up?
This is not the first time Fiddler on the Roof has been mounted in the round. It’s a fantastic challenge to adjust Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography for the round. The round has given me permission to change the “front” of many of his steps. At Arena Stage it’s important to share the choreography with all sides. I have made many of my own choreographic adjustments to shape Fiddler for Arena’s space while still honoring Jerome Robbins’ original vision.
You have worked on many productions at Arena Stage. What do you enjoy the most about working there?
I enjoy collaborating with the incredible production team at Arena Stage lead by Artistic Director Molly Smith. They are one of the most talented group of people I have worked with anywhere. Molly expects the best from each artist that enters the stage door each day, and I think it’s evident in the artistry seen on the three stages at Arena.
You are a performer turned choreographer. Did anything fuel this change and do you ever still perform on stage?
I love the creative process of storytelling through choreography. It is extremely rewarding to collaborate with a team of designers and group of actors and musicians to bring my choreographic visions to life! I don’t perform any more; however, people that know me can see me dancing through the choreography I create on other dancers. It makes my parents happy too.
What are your next few projects after Fiddler?
After Fiddler I’m directing and choreographing The Omaha Symphony Christmas Spectacular in Omaha, NE. Then in February I return to The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario to choreograph Sweet Charity directed by Morris Panych and musical directed by Paul Sportelli who is the MD for Fiddler at Arena Stage.