From Picayune to the Big Apple: Local aims to bring awareness to arts in Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 21, 2015

Passion for the arts:  PIcayune native Alexandra Parker will compete for Miss New York USA in Jan.  Photo submitted

Passion for the arts: PIcayune native Alexandra Parker will compete for Miss New York USA in Jan.
Photo submitted

In August 2014, with only $300, two suitcases and a leap of faith, Picayune native Alexandra Parker moved to New York City to pursue her dream of performing on stage.
Now, a little over a year later, Parker is the human resources director at a marketing firm in the financial district.
But her dreams of performing live on Broadway are still alive and in January, she will compete for the title of Miss New York USA 2016.
Parker is no stranger to the world of theater having first performed in a production at Pilgrim Bound Baptist Church at the age of four.
From there Alexandra joined the theater group Picayune on Stage.
“My first production on Picayune on Stage happened when I was in the third grade,” Parker said. “I was an elf in the play “Santa’s Christmas Tree.” In sixth grade, when I performed in “Footloose,” I decided I wanted to be in New York and on Broadway.”
Parker also attended dance school at Sarah’s School of Dance, and in high school, was a member of Picayune Memorial High School’s theater group, under the direction of Donna Porter, Tony Seals and William Rester.
During her freshman year, Parker won best supporting actress at regional competitions for her portrayal of the Spirit of the City in the play “Home,” which she said is one of her favorite roles.
“My monologue was about how great the city is and it’s funny that’s where I ended up,” she said.
In all her experiences, Parker said Rester was one of the most supportive and hands-on directors she’s ever worked with.
“He cared for what we were working on, but not as much as he does the opportunities we would have later in life,” Parker said. “I remember auditioning for college and him being really supportive. He really cares about kids’ futures. It’s not just about if the play will win or lose or bring in sales; you can really tell he cares about what happens after you walk across that stage after graduation.”
Rester said Parker has always been a star, even when she wasn’t “starring” in something.
“I knew from the moment I met her that her life would be full of adventure and triumphs,” Rester said. “She was one of the first students I ever taught, and she has this natural, raw talent. She can sing, act and dance. She’s dangerous really.”
She also participated in a number of other high school activities including, Pride of the Tide dance team, she was voted homecoming queen in 2009 and participated in the Junior Miss scholarship program, which paid for her first six semesters of college at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
She majored in theater and dance with a minor in public relations and participated in many of the same activities she did when she was in Picayune.
However, she never forgot the lessons her parents, Edna and Ivan taught her, nor those of her “sassy” granny Irene and older brother, Michael.
“My parents did good. The things they instilled in me, I kept with,” Parker said. “They did a good job showing me the importance of being a good person and giving back to the community through volunteer work. My parents always gave me an option and explained the results of making a bad decision.”
One of her main reasons for moving to New York was to impact more lives.
In January, she will compete for the title of Miss New York 2016, which includes a panel interview, onstage questions and evening gown and swimsuit competitions, she said.
The charity she will be representing is Operation Smiles, an organization that provides funding for surgeries to repair cleft lips.
“When children are born here in the United States, their cleft lip is automatically fixed,” she said. “But in other countries, the children and their families are shunned just for being born with deformity. I think that a lot of things going on in the world today are based on feelings people have about themselves and how others make them feel. We talk about appearances and literally, a smile can change your life.”
Parker said Picayune is a great place to grow up and this community helped raise her. It truly takes a village, she said.
Her mother, Edna, said she is extremely proud of her daughter.
“Even though she is in New York, she hasn’t forgotten her roots. She dreams of Broadway, entertaining and using her talents to make people feel better,” Edna said. “I’m very thankful that God blessed me to inspire his love in her. I thank God and the community for all they’ve done and are doing for her.”
A GoFundMe account has been established to fund her sponsorship fees at Parker asks anyone who donates to send a self-portrait to be included on a page in the ad book.
For Parker, Miss New York is just the beginning. She said she would love to have a performing arts school in Picayune and other low income areas in Mississippi, where arts is not always the first thing people hear about.
“I want to bring the arts back to Picayune and don’t want people to feel like they have to leave to do whatever they want to do in the arts area,” Alexandra said. “I’ve often thought that we don’t have enough non-profit organizations in Mississippi bringing attention to the arts. Oprah and Brett aren’t bringing the arts to Mississippi, and someone needs to get to the level they are and bring the change to arts in Mississippi. In New York, I have a better chance of that, but I still remember where I came from. My end goal is to do what I can for others. I’m going to go ahead and get myself together here and change not only Mississippi, but other small towns across the world for the little girl or boy who doesn’t have the opportunity to take dance or attend school because their parents don’t have the money.”

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