Sheryn Hylton-Parker: a love of theatre by Angela Osborne
Stabroek News
April 14, 2002

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"Anywhere there was a piano being played, I was there to sing," says actress, Sheryn Hylton Parker, speaking of her lifelong love of singing and theatre.

Hylton-Parker, who happens to be the wife of US Charge d'Affaires Andrew Parker, will be performing in a one-woman show, Women, Places, Pieces at the Cara Inn during the first weekend in May.

Her route to a profession in theatre all began many years ago in her parents' living room, when she and her two sisters and one brother would entertain each other by getting up onto the stage (a raised passageway in their home) to give jokes, sing or act. The whole idea of it was to pass the time.

Her father died just before she turned sixteen, and her 83 year-old mother now lives with her. "I am the smallest, the baby in the family and in fact I think I was forced to be the entertainer of the family."

Her love for theatre was encouraged too while attending primary school. At the time there was an Inter-School Festival involving competitions in speech and drama, and song and dance. "So of course that's how I cut my teeth, doing dances, singing and all that," Hylton-Parker said. She also sang at church and was a member of the school's choir.

By the time she got to high school Hylton Parker had become involved in musicals even though she didn't do much on the stage. Because she was attending a boarding school, she said that they were encouraged to do their thing to entertain each other. The entertainments were held on Saturday nights, each child doing it for four years because when they become seniors, they were no longer required to entertain the boarders.

In Grade 10/11 she finally decided that she wanted to do theatre in earnest. Her decision to get involved was mainly inspired by the fact that she didn't think drama school was serious school, and she needed a break. She would be having fun while doing theatre and didn't have to go directly to college. At this time there were many locals who were doing theatre. "You would see them on television, hear them on the radio and read about them in the newspapers, and you'd go to the National Pantomime Festival and it's a big musical affair and you'd think - hey that is easy, I can do that too."

In drama school she studied under Dennis Scott, the late poet, dramatist and director. At first she wanted to be a director because, "the directors were the more intellectual of the group, but then I was told, 'Sure, hey fine, you can do that but I think you are more of an actress, so you should stick to performing.'"

It was from here that her career in the theatre took off. She performed in various Carifestas and with some of the theatre companies that were formed in the Caribbean, giving her the opportunity to work with persons from other countries. Attending workshops and working with some playwrights afforded her the opportunity of going to the United States and the United Kingdom.

For a couple of years Hylton Parker put her skills to work in the cause of education, using theatre as a tool to teach children how to enjoy various subjects through play and drama. She taught at secondary schools in Jamaica where she learnt sign language in the process.

She also taught drama at a Catholic school in Kingston, Jamaica for one year, while she freelanced in commercial theatre doing pantomimes. During this period she was able to work with the playwright Trevor Rhone, Peter Gambrel, of 'Jamaica Eight o'Clock' fame as well as take part in the National Pantomime with the LTN Theatre Company. She was also involved in commercials for television and radio, in radio theatre and in workshops with the university's drama society.

Feeling that she had exhausted the scene and wanting to grow, she left her homeland and moved to New York in 1988 to study theatre at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. She said that nothing much had changed her but the move opened her eyes to a lot of things that were new.

She confessed with frankness that her every intention had been to move from the New York campus to the Los Angeles campus in order to get her portfolio together, which she was able to do. "The whole idea was to wait tables, go to auditions - I mean I was going to be famous."

But Hylton Parker's plans took a different course, when Andrew Parker asked her to marry him. She said that they had met on his first assignment to Jamaica in 1984 and got married in Spring 1988. "We dated for four years; we had to test the waters and everything, to find out if we wanted to plunge in."

Shortly after they got married, her husband was assigned to Holland and they had to move.

After nine months in Holland, she auditioned for a part in a film, which she got. She thought that it might have had to do with the fact that she was from 'Strasberg.'

In fact with the money she earned she was able to finance her one woman show, or her 'renaissance' as she refers to it today - Bring Me Tomorrow.

This was a piece she had worked on since her time in theatre school. Knowing that perhaps she was going to be married and most likely would not be making it to Hollywood, she created it to prove that all her hard training had not gone to waste. She had to create something that was portable and as such she came up with the one woman show. Earl Warner, was the director whom she was able to take to Holland to help her and to direct the show. For a year and a half, she toured Holland, Belgium, Birmingham and the British Midlands, and the show enjoyed a favourable reception.

In the Summer of 1989, while she was still touring, Hylton Parker got pregnant with her daughter, Ariel Amandla, so she was "touring with me."

In 1991, they moved back to Washington and in 1992 her son, Clay, was born.

In 1993/94, she auditioned for parts in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Coloured Girls with the Shakespeare Arena Sphere for the festival they were having at that time. She had felt the need to go out and prove that she still had it.

In Coloured Girls she performed the part of 'Lady in Green.' She will be doing pieces from Coloured Girls in her charity show here and will be 'Lady in Brown' a part she has always wanted to play.

Then in 1995, her husband was posted to Lagos, Nigeria. She still continued singing and performing.

While there, Hylton Parker along with other diplomats' wives formed the Nigerian American Women's Group. Their main plan was to help charitable organisations in Nigeria, especially those catering for underprivileged children. Their activities included hosting dinners and theatre or cabaret-type productions, and this is how she managed to perform in front of an audience.

Again in 1997, the Parkers were assigned to Jamaica, her homeland, where she could not escape from persons wanting her to participate in their theatrical ventures. For one-and-a-half years she took on the role of 'God,' which she said was the only reason she took part in Feminine Justice. This, she said, was her best role to date. When in Jamaica, she also did many guest performances, mostly around the time when her friend Earl Warner died, because there were many shows in honour of him.

It was from Jamaica that the Parkers came to Guyana in the year 2000.

When she came here, said Hylton Parker, she was very bored, but she has since changed that opinion now maintaining that Guyana runs a close second to her home country. Together with her husband, she has visited the length and breadth of the country, almost on a weekly basis.

Hylton-Parker, who refers to herself as a Jamaican American, will be performing in her one woman show at the Cara Inn, Pere Street, Kitty, during the first weekend in May. She is overcome with nerves about doing a show here, but said that she would be concentrating on the charity aspect of the show.

The show, which is a production of Gems Theatre Productions, will feature the works of Derek Walcott, Lorna Goodison, Ntozake Shange, EK Braithwaite, Erma Brodber and Sheryn Hylton Parker. Tickets can be bought from Cara Inn or Gem Madhoo.