Kathy Parks: set the stage for Gibson Southern Theatre Department

From a humble beginning to elaborate shows, the original purpose of the Theater Department has never changed; it’s all about belonging

Eva Spindler, Copy Editor

In 1974, Gibson Southern High School was established. With the school’s founding came the hiring of staff. Three years before its founding, H.E. Bonney, the then Owensville Community School principal, hired Kathy Parks as a seventh grade teacher. Although she did not know it at the time, this three-year period was important for Parks pursuing her goal, being involved in a high school theatre program. 

“He was trying me out as a teacher,” Parks said. “I didn’t know it at the time; I guess I had three years to prove to him I could do something.”

After teaching seventh grade for three years, Parks was named as part of the faculty for Gibson Southern High School as an English teacher. She had a minor in English but focused on areas in speech and theatre.

Upon being hired, Parks worked on her goal of participating in a high school theatre program. As a child, Parks said her family life was hard. She struggled with finding a place to belong. Throughout her childhood, she searched for a safe-place and found comfort in her high school’s Theatre Department.

“I was a kiddo that needed to belong, to fit somewhere,” Parks said. “The theatre program at my high school welcomed me. Everyone was so warm and welcoming.”

Although Parks was welcomed by everyone in the program, there was one person she developed an even greater bond with.

“The director of that program was like a father to me,” Parks said. “He kind of saved my life. I just thought, ‘Wow, if I could ever do that for somebody else, that would be pretty cool.’”

Her experiences in the department inspired Parks to be involved in theatre at Gibson Southern, although she did not intend to start the department.

“I just wanted to be in one (theatre program),” Parks said. “I wanted to be this person that studies in a huge, big program with mentors and you learn. That was my goal.”

Against her original plan, Parks became the director of the new Gibson Southern Theatre Department (GSTD). The department began with its first production, “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” in the spring of 1975. The department only did one show its first year.

“It took the year because nobody knew about it, none of the kids knew about it,” Parks said. “I went out and recruited. It was a small cast, eight actors. I thought, ‘Well, it’s better to start with good material, with few people and try to get it right.’” 

The department began performing in the old auditorium, which was much smaller than the auditorium in the school today. The auditorium included few seats, a small stage, and a hallway seven feet wide to store the set for an entire show.

“Everything we did had to fit in the seven feet, folded up,” Parks said.

Along with the other challenges, the auditorium also had no spot for an orchestra.

“We had no place for an orchestra,” Parks said. “We built an orchestra platform. We put flats up so the audience couldn’t see it.”

The difficulties associated with the auditorium were not the only setbacks Parks encountered. When she first began the department, there were no funds.

“Money. Zero!” Parks said. “We had no money. I knew that we had to build sets, do something. So, I borrowed money from the athletic department, $500, to pay royalties and script.”

After buying lumber to build a small set, the shop class offered to build the set for “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” Just a week and a half before the performance, they had some problems with the set, a large wooden doghouse. The auditorium had no double doors, unlike the workshop where the set was constructed.

“So, anyhow, they had to take it apart, bring it in, and rebuild it,” Parks said.

After selling tickets and finishing the performances, Parks repaid all of the money she borrowed, leaving the department with $23.50. She realized that the department had to find a way to make money.

“I thought, ‘Do I wanna wash cars and sell candy bars? I do not,’” Parks said. “So, we did Vaudeville.”

Parks continued to direct until 1988, when she stepped aside. Her last show as director was “The Wizard of Oz.” Parks made many memories during her years as director.

“Millions of them (memories), thousands of them,” Parks said. “Often it’s not the big sweeping thing; it’s a moment.”

Parks experienced a special moment during GSTD’s performance of “The Sound of Music.” After the first scene where Maria is out in an open field, the crew transitioned into a totally new location, the courtyard of the Von Trapp house, in 30 seconds.

“And when the lights came up, it was a whole new place, and people applauded,” Parks said. “They (the audience) were just that impressed.”

Parks enjoyed directing many productions at Gibson Southern and cannot choose a favorite.

“It’s like asking me if I had a favorite student or asking your parents if they have a favorite child,” Parks said. “Each one had its charm and its challenge and its glory. The shows when kids did something they didn’t think they could do, that’s always the kicker.”

Parks started helping the department in a different aspect. She began assisting the current director, Adam Bledsoe, after he asked for assistance with GSTD’s 2015 production of “Mary Poppins.”

“They were doing a show, ‘Mary Poppins,’ and they had missed so many days,” Parks said. “He called me and said, ‘Could I get you to come out and do notes?’ and I said, ‘Sure, I’d be happy to.’”

Parks continued to help after the “Mary Poppins” performances. During rehearsals she works with small groups or individuals to help with their performance.

Theatre has changed in many ways since Parks was in her own high school theatre department. However, for Parks, some things never change.

“There is a place for everybody,” Parks said. “It doesn’t matter what you think you cannot do. You find your place. It’s a life lesson, and that has not changed.”

Although Parks has retired, she enjoys being involved in GSTD and helping in different aspects.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” Parks said. “I’m really honored that I still get to do it.”