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Parker Drew ‘revisits’ his tribute to Mark Twain in one man show

By Erin Hunsader

Parker Drew takes the stage as Mark Twain in Mark Twain Revisited.

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started,” is a well-known quote from Mark Twain. This quote certainly rings true for local actor Parker Drew who returns to the stage with his one man show, Mark Twain Revisited. Drew, whose theatrical beginnings started with Twain, said he is still surprised by how it happened.

“I started as a musician,” Drew said. “When I was about six or seven I started lessons on clarinet.”

Drew said he took to the woodwind instrument pretty quickly and was happy studying music, until he saw a famous actor portraying Twain on TV.

“Things veered off a little bit. I saw Hal Holbrook do a special on Mark Twain tonight. I watched it with my parents and said, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ They said, ‘oh, very interesting’” Drew said. “Next thing, as a junior high school student, probably about a year later, I was in a speech competition. I won that competition by doing a Twain story.”

Twain’s ‘How to tell a ghost story’ was the piece he performed, Drew said. That was at Washington junior high which is now Washington Middle school. He said he was surprised when one of his English teachers told him to work up the Twain piece to fill half of the time for the school play.

“That’s exactly what I did and literally have been doing it ever since,” Drew said.

Drew, who has a long list of acting credits both locally and nationally, returns to the stage with his Twain piece Thursday, March 10 at the Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center. He said the longer he plays Twain, the better he gets to know the writer.

“Ironically I’ve played Twain at the age of 70 for all of these years. That’s when he was at the pinnacle of his lecturing years and all of a sudden, I’m only a few years away from this age that I’ve been playing (him at),” said Drew.

Drew said that once he presented the Twain piece for the school play in 1970, it wasn’t long that he received invitations from other schools in the area to perform, and soon after that he was signed to a talent agency.

“The very first time I did Twain in makeup and costume was in May of 1970, my ninth grade year. Within a very short time, Green Bay East called up and wanted me to do it over there. Then West high and everywhere I went to do music stuff, I would do it for talent night, and I’d win,” said Drew. “This went on – I went to the University of Louisville to study music and I did the show there. The Louisville Courier-Journal gave it a rave review. I had a professor who said to me, ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t be happier on stage?’ and I thought, ‘You know what, he’s right.’ That’s where it changed (from music to theatre),” said Drew.

He said he moved back to the area to attend Saint Norbert College but Twain would soon take him all over the U.S.

“That was 1977-78 and I signed with a talent agency. I was doing (Mark Twain) shows all over the country,” Drew said. “That led to being signed by a New York City agency and then it became full-blown. It was on the college circuit.”

Drew said he was lucky enough to stay in the area and continue to attend college, while also getting a taste of the actor’s life on the road.

“For about two or three years, that’s mostly what I did,” Drew said. “I was living here at the time. In a typical month, I would be around for awhile – I would always have a regular job, but then I would get called by the agency in New York and they would have three shows lined up and I would go to say Waco, Texas and fly to Utah and then fly to Oregon and then fly back. Then I may not have anything for a month or month and a half and then I’d have another four shows.”

Drew said he also had the pleasure of meeting Hal Holbrook several times because of the Twain connection.

“I share the same structure of the show that Hal Holbrook did – of course he passed away a couple years ago. I met him several times. The first time I was about 18 and I told him I was doing it (the Mark Twain show). He was very supportive,” Drew said.

The show has evolved over the decades, Drew said, and he tries to tailor it to his audience.

“Over time, particularly the last 20 years of doing it on the college circuit, around the country, that’s where it gradually evolved. I would say I have a pretty unique version of it,” Drew said.

Feeling the connection to Twain after all this time, Drew also said he tries his best to share the message of who Twain really was with his audience.

“Most people don’t know Twain had a lecture career, they think Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn (when they think of Twain). Twain toured the world as a lecturer and he was hilarious. He’s the original American stand-up comedian,” Drew said. “So, I try to impress on an audience that what you’re seeing, how timeless his commentary is on the human race remains today.

For more information on Mark Twain Revisited with Parker Drew check out the Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center’s website.

Erin Hunsader is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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