Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Riley Parkhurst is a full-time college student at UW-Rock County/UW-Whitewater and a part time worker at Chipotle, but he’s best known for the acting chops he developed as a Parker High School student in Janesville (he graduated in 2017).
Parkhurst currently is majoring in music education with a minor in theater education. His most recent project was playing Carl Bruner in Rock River Repertory Theatre’s production of “Ghost: The Musical,” and his most recent off-stage work involved assisting UW-Rock County theater director Trevor Rees on the play “Dog Sees God.”
Parkhurst feels family is important, and he’s especially proud of his sister, Brooke, a soccer player he says has “gifted feet.” He also has a dog, Lefty, who is left handed/footed just like his owner.
1. How did you first become interested in theater? As a freshman, a friend convinced me to audition for “Shrek: The Musical.” I didn’t make the cast/ensemble listing at first, but then the guard who had been cast had to drop out of the show, and I was in my first musical as the Shrek guard.
2. How many plays have you performed in, and what has been your favorite role thus far? Of the 15 musicals I have done, my favorite role has been Bert in the musical “Mary Poppins.” The role had dancing, singing, strong character acting and voice dialect. During the song “Step In Time,” I walked up the side of the stage and danced across the top of the proscenium stage (the metaphorical vertical plane of space in a theater).
3. What is your dream role? I would love the chance to audition for Evan Hansen in “Dear Evan Hansen” and Gabe in “Next to Normal.” Both roles have amazing songs and vocals, and I also feel the mental health messages in these two musicals are impactful.
4. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. Anyone who has seen me perform would be surprised, if not shocked, that I have a stutter in normal conversation.
5. How are you able to act and sing without your stutter affecting your performance? People affected with stutters are almost always fluent when singing. I didn’t know I could be fluent when acting, though. I really credit the vision of (local director) Jim Tropp and (local music director) Jan Knutson. There is an aspect of memorizing lines along with the voice amplification (a mic) that allows me to be fluent when performing. It is as if the speech comes from a different area of my brain when being recalled by memory. I was not aware of it when I started acting, but there are several famous actors who stutter, such as James Earl Jones and Bruce Willis. It is amazing, as a stutterer, to take something that should be my biggest fear—speaking and acting on stage in front of a sold-out audience—and making it a strength. I feel free when performing.
6. If you could perform on stage or in a movie with any famous actor or actress, who would it be? I want to take a stage combat class and then I would love to be in an action movie with Robert Downey Jr.
7. Do you have any pre-performance rituals? I jam out in my car to “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles to make sure my voice is warm.
8. Share one truth and one lie about your personality without explaining which is which. I always use a funny alias such as “Grant Bail” or “Bill Payer” when making a take-out order, and I have a K-cup collection.
9. You’re currently studying music education at UW-Rock County. How many instruments do you play, and how did you get your start musically? I play 10 instruments. I started musically in the Van Buren Elementary band and took voice lessons from local teacher Fran Peyer.
10. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Living in Wisconsin, the superpower of having weather control would be awesome. In my downtime, I could end a drought or avert a natural disaster.
11. If money was no object, what would you be doing right now? Chilling in the Bahamas drinking a large nonalcoholic beverage.
12. What is your astrological sign? Cancer. The outlook sounds bad already.
13. You’ve won three Tommy Awards (now called Jerry Awards) which recognize excellence in high school musical theater. How cool is that? It is cool. Most high school performers have a goal of winning a Jerry Award. It was a goal of mine. Performing on stage at the Overture Center as part of the Tommy/Jerry Awards has been a highlight of my young acting career.
14. Share a topic about which you know more than you probably should. There are more than one million permutations for making a Chipotle burrito. You could eat a different burrito every day from Chipotle for more than 2,870 years before having to eat a duplicate combination. Who says math isn’t important.
15. Most people have no idea that high school theater is: A hot ticket in town. Parker and Craig high schools have amazing shows with fantastic talent and directing. The costumes, lighting, sound and sets are of professional quality. You cannot find a better value for your entertainment dollar than with our local high school theater scene.
16. When it comes to music, which artists do you most admire? I admire the artists whose music is good enough to touch multiple generations. The Beatles and Johnny Cash are two of my favorites.
17. How much time do you devote to practicing music in a given week? The hours vary from week to week. I tend to only practice one instrument at a time, so it’s not difficult. Voice is the instrument I use the most.
18. Do you watch much TV? Are there any shows you absolutely, positively will not miss? TV ... not much. Video games ... yes. The guys and I binge.
19. Describe your perfect day. I love supporting and watching people I know perform. So, if someone I know would get a gig at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, I will be there for my perfect day.
20. If taking part in high school theater has taught me one thing, it is: No one can put out a show on their own—it takes teamwork ... it takes a theater family. The teamwork lesson is applicable outside a theater, too.