Philip Parsons AM 1926-1993
Philip Edward Parsons was born in Adelaide on 27 January 1926, but grew up in Perth.
After he graduated in 1950, a Harkness Fellowship took him to King’s College, Cambridge.
From 1959 until 1964 Parsons lectured in English Literature at the University of Western Australia.
In 1977 Parsons was instrumental in forming what is now the Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies (ADSA),
The Currency Lad
Probably Australia’s most respected theatre academic, Philip Parsons also made his mark as
an innovative director, knowledgeable dramaturg, inspiring mentor and enterprising publisher.
Philip Edward Parsons was born in Adelaide on 27 January 1926, but grew up in Perth. He carried a childhood fascination with theatre with him to the University of Western Australia, where his portrayals of various villains in undergraduate plays became legendary. After he graduated in 1950, a Harkness Fellowship took him to King’s College, Cambridge. There his tutor was George Rylands, the great authority on Shakespeare and Restoration drama. Parsons’ thesis was a radical reappraisal of the performance of Restoration tragedy.
From 1959 until 1964 Parsons lectured in English Literature at the University of Western Australia. He took the opportunity to test his theories of Elizabethan performance practice, especially that the text’s punctuation was there to assist the actors, not the readers. Parsons was involved in the planning of the university’s New Fortune Theatre, the first attempt to replicate the dimensions and characteristics of an Elizabethan playhouse anywhere in the world. The New Fortune opened with Hamlet during the 1964 Festival of Perth. Four years later Parsons directed a ‘daylight’ production of Richard III there, with Martin Redpath in the title role. It was designed by Rex Cramphorn, a student of Parsons’.
In 1965 Parsons joined the University of New South Wales. When Professor Robert Quentin established the university’s drama department in 1966-67, Parsons and Victor Emeljanow were its first lecturers. Parsons’ colleague Dr John Golder described him as an ‘ideas man’, and instrumental in shaping the development of its Theatre Studies Department. Parsons remained with the university for 22 years, finally retiring in 1987 as Senior Lecturer in the School of Theatre and Film Studies. During this period he continued to direct, most notably the world premiere of Dorothy Hewett’s Mrs Porter and the Angel for PACT Youth Theatre in 1970 and Molière’s Don Juan for the university in 1976.
In 1977 Parsons was instrumental in forming what is now the Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies (ADSA), the peak academic body in the Pacific region promoting the study of drama in any performing medium. ADSA convenes an annual conference and awards annual prizes for the best scholarly paper by an ADSA member (the Marlis Thiersch Prize), the best performance-as-research project by a postgraduate ADSA member (the Philip Parsons Prize), the Rob Jordan Prize for the best book published by an ADSA member, and the Veronica Kelly Prize for the best postgraduate paper.
Photograph taken by David Liddle 1988 - courtesy Currency Press
John Golder: Preserving the Ephemeral – Katharine Brisbane and Currency Press, Friends of the National Library of Australia, 1995
John McCallum: ‘Philip Parsons’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
John Senczuk: ‘The DSI Elizabethan Experiments, 1986-93’, in O Brave New World, Currency Press, 2001