Rob Parks has made it his mission to explore Greenville while performing in “The Lion King” at the Peace Center. When the theatre is dark on Mondays, Parks schedules time to visit family or friends in the region, the Biltmore House in Asheville and the historical sites and quality of life the Upstate offers.
Parks is a renaissance man by virtue of his musical studies, performances, travels and his fascination with the cities and countries he visits. Parks, a Little Brother as a youth, is a Big Brother in Jamaica, N.Y. He travels with Diamond, a Doberman. “I had a Ruby (Doberman) and he died of old age. So I thought I would get a ‘Diamond.’”
Parks grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., studied music education at Michigan State University and has performed in musical theater, jazz and opera.
He has lived in an apartment in Greer and prefers to cook – chicken breasts and broccoli – when time permits. Parks said he likes to eat food indigenous to the area he is visiting when eating out.
“The Lion King” has five shows remaining in its record-breaking run at The Peace Center. The Broadway musical hit broke “Phantom’s” record of 33 sellouts a week ago and it was projected to reach 40 before closing.
Parks took time out to visit with GreerToday.com from an extraordinarily busy schedule. On this day he had his daily workout at a gym, walked and took care of Diamond, attended a longer than usual rehearsal, took a quick lunch/dinner break and had an abbreviated rest before an evening performance.
Q: I’ve never known a person who received a scholarship to college to study opera.
A: Well, now you do. MSU (Michigan State University) has an incredible music education program. Studying opera paid for my education.
Q: What do you remember most about your opera studies?
A: We had students from China one semester and we would sing with them. When we went to China in an exchange program I sang an Italian opera with a Chinese student. We both were singing in Italian and didn’t understand what we each were saying with me speaking English and she Chinese.
Q: What was it like visiting China?
A: I visited Shanghai and northwest China. I remember my first time seeing the Great Wall and how in awe I was with how large the stones were to make the wall. I can’t begin to imagine how many people it took to the build the wall and how many people died over those years.
Q: What is in your travel bag?
A: An iPhone, iPad, MacBook and a 42-inch flat screen TV that I can plug in anywhere and watch Redbox movies. I also have Bose noise cancelling headphones.
Q: Do you collect souvenirs from your tour stops?
A: Photos first and foremost. I like nature trails Diamond and I can walk.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: I am read books based on mindfulness … meditation. I am reading John Kabatt-Zinn and his bringing eastern philosophy of Buddhism west.
Q: What is your role in “The Lion King”?
A: I’m an understudy to Simba and Shenzi (hyena).
Q: How did you get the roles in “The Lion King?”
A: I got a new agent and he got me some modeling jobs right away. He told me about auditions for “The Lion King” and I went specifically for Simba. It was about a three-week process. There were about 75 guys who all looked exactly like me trying for the Simba role. They had me sing solo “Endless Night”. We would have a callback for movement and another one for another part of the role. At the final callback there were two of us there, the one who plays Simba now, and all the producers and Julie Taymor, (Director of ‘The Lion King’). The person who played Simba on Broadway was also there. They picked the other guy but told me they wanted me to understudy. They said the only thing was nobody knew me.
Q: As understudy, have you played Simba on occasion?
A: Since the two years I’ve been on the tour, which is a long time, I’ve played Simba 65-70 times. That’s really pretty good.
Q: Do you scout your locations in advance for landmarks or tourist stops?
A: The last week in Miami I started to get geared up for Greenville. I think of family and friends who may be near and try to visit with them on Monday (an off day). I look for a 24-hour grocery store and a 24-hour fitness center. I look at Trip Advisor and Yelp and see what’s nearby. I got my scuba certification in Miami and I bought a motorcycle.
Q: Have you seen any family?
A: I had family in Charleston but they’re not there any more. I went to Knoxville to visit a friend last Monday and drove through the Great Smokey Mountains. I felt like I was in a movie it was so beautiful.
Q: What else do you look for when coming to a new city?
A: Touring, to me, is like test-drives where you would like to live. You see the bigger cities but when you come to a Greenville, it’s beautiful. I make a list before I come to town. I want to ride the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I like to visit the zoo, nature and science centers of cities. I look for dog parks and trails for Diamond.
Q: What are some of the places you have visited and things you have done here?
A: I just bought a scooter and I want to try out the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I like to hang with the cubs (young Simbas). I’ve been to the Biltmore Estates and plan to go there again before I leave. We’ve been to Frankie’s Fun Park and that was a lot of fun. The cast played its third annual softball game one night at a park near the zoo. We put up sign-up sheets for paintball and whirlyball. The minute the paintball sheets go up we sign up.
Q: The Peace Center has undergone a major renovation. What did you think of the stage and theatre?
A: I like Greenville’s theater. Sometimes the stages are too large. I like running down the right aisle when I’m coming on stage with the ensemble here.
Q: Do smaller towns provide a variety of culture?
A: I’ve been to some big cities – New Orleans, Orlando, Miami, San Francisco – but I like to visit the areas just outside them. I want to know the region where these cities are located. I could not have asked for a better city than Greenville to visit. If it had not been for “The Lion King” I would not have had the opportunity to visit.