There’s a little bit of Rockport resident Brittany Parker in all the characters she creates. The 34-year-old musician, actress, composer and educator has written songs and shows for young people for nearly a decade, all centered around some truly unique characters.
There’s Bee Parks, a “bee lady” who is the leader of the Hornets, an indie-pop band that sings songs about the environment, equality and being yourself. There’s the Glitch Witch, an accident-prone witch who would rather rock out with her cat than cast spells. And then there’s the Tiniest Librarian, a pint-sized librarian who falls into the adventures that are written in the pages of her books.
“I think the connecting line is that they are all underdogs,” Parker said. “And they don’t always fit into a neat little box. They all feel a little different from what the world thinks they should be. I feel like that, and I know a lot of kids feel that way as well.”
A filmed version of “The Tiniest Librarian Finds a Valentine,” an original show featuring puppets, projections and all-original songs by Parker, will premiere this Sunday as part of the all-digital 2020-21 season at Bangor’s Penobscot Theatre Company.
Parker grew up just outside Orlando, Florida in a musical family; her father was a drummer in a classic rock and oldies cover band, so she was always around music as a child. She attended the University of Florida to study theater, and after college, she did what countless other young actors do: she moved to New York City.
For the next six years, she balanced constant auditions and some roles in Off Broadway productions with the need to pay the bills. One of those side jobs was teaching music and movement to young children, something for which Parker found she had a natural talent.
“Once I started doing it, it became immediately clear that I absolutely loved working with young people,” Parker said. “With most of the things I make, it’s very rare that you won’t be asked to get on your feet, whatever age you are. That kind of activity is something kids really take to.”
On a whim, Parker decided to come to Maine for the summer in 2014, to be part of a workshop at the Barns Arts Collective, a performing arts collaborative and venue in the village of Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island. At that time, she’d never been to Maine — but by the end of the summer, she’d fallen in love with the state, and has been here ever since.
“I think in Maine, folks are just a lot more open to the arts, and to the arts being a driver of the economy,” Parker said. “When you’re in a city as oversaturated as New York, you end up performing for your friends, over and over. And the entrepreneurial spirit here is amazing. People are really passionate about supporting small businesses, arts-related or not.”
It was on MDI that she developed characters like Bee Parks and the Tiniest Librarian. Bee Parks and the Hornets had a long residency at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor, performing high-energy, interactive shows for families throughout the summer and fall. The Tiniest Librarian came out of a long-running association Parker has had with the Southwest Harbor Public Library, and the character itself is partially based on the library’s children’s librarian, Susan Plimpton.
Parker has performed in theaters and venues all over the state and across the northeastern U.S. She had long wanted to collaborate with the Penobscot Theatre Company, though she and PTC artistic director Bari Newport and managing director Jen Shepard hadn’t been able to find the right time to showcase Parker’s work. This pandemic year, however, made it possible.
“We wanted to work with Brittany because of her incredible artistry, her sense of humor and her heart which shines through all of her work,” Shepard said. “Her shows embrace and lift up what is best about living a life with an eye towards everyday heroes.”
Parker has already turned one of her shows, “The Glitch Witch,” into a filmed production, which aired on the Penobscot Theatre website back in October. “The Tiniest Librarian Finds a Valentine” is next, and runs Feb. 7-28. Parker will wrap up her Penobscot Theatre collaboration with a filmed version of a Bee Parks and the Hornets show, which will premiere on April 11.
“We could take what were originally live shows, and turn them into films,” Parker said. “Luckily, I have also had a lot of experience in video production work, so I was able to use those skills to really bring these shows to life on film.”
When she’s not performing for young audiences, Parker is the education manager for the Strand Theatre in Rockland, where she’s spent the past two years bringing performing arts programming to midcoast families. Though she is looking forward to a return to live performance sometime later this year, the pandemic has made her equally excited about throwing her support behind other artists and musicians who make music and theater for families.
“I think the pandemic has made me look at the bigger picture, which is to help support more diverse voices in the family music world,” she said. “I’m incredibly excited to bring some of those people here to Maine as well.”
Single-household tickets for “The Tiniest Librarian Finds a Valentine” are $20. To purchase that, or a half-season household subscription for $70, which includes “The Tiniest Librarian,” “Mr. Ben’s Playhouse” and “Bee Parks and the Hornets,” visit penobscottheatre.org.