Five Questions

Houston parking lot theater: Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons looks back at his humble, local start

Houston parking lot theater: Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons looks back at his humble, local start

Before Jim Parsons was the eccentric genius Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, he was a founding member of Houston's Infernal Bridegroom Productions (IBP), performing in 18 plays with the group. Parsons also graduated from Klein Oak High School and the University of Houston.

With the talented IBP crew having reorganized as Catastrophic Theatre, Parsons is taking a trip back to town as the honoree Saturday night for Catastrophic Theatre's gala, "Big! Bang! Catastrophe!" at Houston Studios.

In advance of his glorious one-night return to the Houston theater scene, CultureMap spoke with Parsons about his Houston experiences and his beloved breakout character.

CultureMap: Tell me about your time at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. What did you learn from the experience?

Jim Parsons: The experience was very life-encompassing ... it really took over, and I threw myself into for a period of time. I went to undergrad at the University of Houston and graduate school at the University of San Diego, and the further I get away from those days the more I feel that my Infernal Bridegroom experience was on par with my traditional education in getting me where I am.

It gave me a chance to do a type of play that I wasn't exposed to at university, like Beckett and Brecht. Both of my university experiences were pretty straight and narrow, with plays in spaces that were very typical, as opposed to Infernal Bridegroom performing all over the map. More often then not we were in a warehouse or parking lot, whatever we could create a show in.

There were a lot of important lessons that I learned, including the ability to perform under any circumstances. You can only learn it by getting the chance to do it, to perform in whatever room, in front of whatever audience that you have. It builds confidence that's born of literal fact that you have done that. It's harder to throw me as an actor than it would be had I not had that experience.

CM: You were nominated for an Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series last year. In an ensemble cast, what makes Sheldon stand out as being so funny?

JP: If Sheldon stands out its because, I think, Sheldon is a combination, an extreme example of some very humanistic traits. His obsession with his spot, that's a very normal thing, but what makes it not normal is his obsession. He's not trying to be rude, he's just stating a fact, but most people would find it to be rude to tell someone to move in their own house. That's what makes him so appealing as a character, he has these normal tendencies but they're so magnified, so extreme, and there's no one else like him on TV.

And these are geniuses, they aren't just nerds, they aren’t just smart, they have some of the brilliant, beuatiful minds that shape our world. And because he has such an exceptional mind, we allow him to go there. And theres a great freedom in that and a great joy in that. You have a very large color palette, which is kind of ironic.

CM: As someone with multiple degrees, do you ever use your personal experience when playing Sheldon on Big Bang Theory?

JP: You know, I'd be lying if I said I did. Maybe subconsciously … I really enjoyed the educational environment, my mother and sister are both schoolteachers — they teach first grade — so I think being in an educational environment is in my DNA. But the only thing that's ever consciously brought in is what (the writers) write. I know I bring something in, but very little is beyond what they put in the pages. They do a good enough job with saying who he is and having him say who he is.

CM: How often do you make it back to Houston? Is there anything in town you always try to visit while you're here?

JP: About twice a year, Christmas and summertime, and its usually very family-centric, with maybe a couple friends that I try and see. We always, end up at two places: Lupe Tortilla and Pappadeaux. When I lived here I don't think we had Lupe Tortilla, or it was new, but my family has started going there and I really like it. Mexican is my favorite kind of food, and I've eaten it wherever I've lived.

It's very different in New York and in California, but I like it all. But Tex-Mex is my favorite. I could take a trip and eat Tex-Mex every day.

CM: Is it weird to be coming back as a special guest and honoree for the same people you started out with?

JP: It's a little odd, but at the same time, if I can help bring attention to not just a theater group, but a group of people who have been important to my life and my growth as an actor, if I can bring attention financially, it is so my pleasure to try.

This has been for so long now such worthy work, both back when we were together and what they still do. It's a crucial part of a cultural theme in Houston. It fills a void, I got to work and people got to see things they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to see.

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Parsons in IBP's "King Ubu is King" back in the parking lot and warehouse performance days.
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Jim Parsons in a modern-day publicity shot. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Television
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Parsons, right, in Infernal Bridegroom Production's of "Woyzeck".