Jon Sparks – A Man for All Theatrical Seasons

Jon Sparks - Photo courtesy of Jon Sparks
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Jon Sparks will direct the upcoming Kentwood Players production of “Steel Magnolias.” Jon is a 24-year member of the Kentwood Players and is honored to work with a great team! For the past two decades, he has performed, directed, wigged, costumed, and produced shows all over Los Angeles and Orange County. Jon is a proud member of IATSE Local 706, the Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild. He is an accomplished wig master, as well as a man with an acting background and serious vocal chops. In February 2024, he kindly agreed to interview.

I understand that you are a 24-year member of Kentwood Players. What first drew you to Kentwood Players? Did you have a background in acting? directing?

Jon Sparks:  My good friend Alison Boole played Adelaide in their production of “Guys and Dolls” in 1995 so I was familiar with the location. With Kentwood Players, I was drawn to the sense of community that the theater provides. We have a large base of volunteer members that all come together to help put each show on. My first production with them was in 2000 with “Side By Side” by Sondheim. Since then, I have been a member and involved in at least one production a year, either as an actor, doing wigs, designing sets, or just volunteering. 

I have been acting since high school, musicals mostly. I studied theater and vocal performance in college. I have participated in several theater companies across Los Angeles and Orange County. I have been involved with over 70 productions. I have been extremely honored to play some of the great parts in musical theater from Curly in “Oklahoma” and Billy in “Carousel,” Bobby in “Company,” Pippin in “Pippin,” and El Gallo in “The Fantasticks.” I even played Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Sylvia St. Croix in “Ruthless,” and Sister Robert Ann in “Nunsence A-Men.” I even had a stint performing onboard a cruise ship with Holland America.

Jahnavi Alyssa, Elizabeth Summerer, Grady Hicks, Michele Selin, Catherine Rahm, and Amy Coles in STEEL MAGNOLIAS – Photo by Gloria Ramirez Plunkett

Do you prefer doing musicals or plays? What is your favorite role?

Sparks:  I am a singer first and foremost, so I would always choose a musical. My favorite role is ever changing. I really have five favorites. The role I never wanted to stop doing was Roger DeBris in “The Producers.” There were just so many delicious thing to say or sing. Vocally, I would say Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” because singing “Soliloquy” is a baritone’s dream. Stine in “City of Angels” pushed me vocally, and the jazzy style of the music and the film noir setting is one of my favorite eras. Edward Bloom in “Big Fish” was just a joyous experience all around. The vocals were extremely difficult but so very fulfilling to sing. But I must say my most challenging role was Bruce Bechdel in “Fun Home.” The complexity of portraying a father in the 1970s who was closeted was a very intense experience. What he went through and put his family through in his attempt to live the life that was expected of him was really a horrific existence. To get to portray that and process what he must be going through was a very cathartic experience.

Elizabeth Summerer, Jahnavi Alyssa, and Amy Coles in STEEL MAGNOLIAS – Photo by Gloria Ramirez Plunkett

What are some of the shows you directed? Have you had training in this area? Or did your skills come naturally?

Sparks:  This is the third show I have directed and the first play. The others were musicals – “Damn Yankees” in 2002 and “Bye Bye Birdie” in 2003. It’s been 20 years since I last directed a show, and I’m really looking forward to “Steel Magnolias.” My directing experience comes through the acting side, as well as from assisting my husband, who is also a director, on all his shows over the past 15 years.

Elizabeth Summerer (seated), Michele Selin, Catherine Rahm, Grady Hicks, and Amy Coles in STEEL MAGNOLIAS – Photo by Gloria Ramirez Plunkett

You will be directing “Steel Magnolias” for Kentwood Players next month. I understand that you always wanted to direct this play. What drew you to this specific play? How do you plan to proceed? What important points do you hope the audience catches?

Sparks:  I remember seeing the movie first. I loved the humor of the piece, as well as the heart. A lot of people don’t realize that the show is based on the author’s real-life experience with his mother and sister. He originally wrote it as a short story to help him deal with the loss of his sister. He later expanded the piece to include their friends to capture the flavor of the era and their relationships.

I was so struck with the camaraderie of the women. These women stick together through adversity, joy, laughter and sorrow.  When I was growing up, my mother got her hair done in a neighborhood salon; and I would love to sit in the corner, unnoticed, and listed to all the stories of these remarkable women. I am now privileged to have a core group of friends that are always there for each other, so I understand the bonds that grow between friends. I hope the audience feels the warmth and laughter of the piece. You will truly laugh out loud as well as cry with them as friends have done with each other forever.

Any Coles and Grady Hicks in STEEL MAGNOLIAS – Photo by Gloria Ramirez Plunkett

I see that you are also a member of IATSE Local 706, the Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild. Why did you join, and how long have you been a member? 

Sparks:  I first joined IATSE when I was hired to work in the hair and makeup department at Disneyland in the ‘90s and again in 2015. I thought I wanted to follow my friends into the world of TV and film, but it was not for me. I prefer to focus on theatrical wigs. I find great joy in creating the right look for a character and having the audience think it’s their real hair.

Catherine Rahm, Michele Selin, Elizabeth Summerer, Amy Coles, Grady Hicks, and Jahnavi Alyssa in STEEL MAGNOLIAS – Photo by Gloria Ramirez Plunkett

I understand that you are a wig master. Exactly what does that entail? Which was the most difficult wig you ever created? Have you ever taught wig/makeup skills to others?

Sparks:  Technically, a wig master is a theater specialist who creates wigs and hairstyles for productions within the guidelines set by the costume designer.  I mostly create wigs for theatrical productions. That is why I wanted to do hair in the first place. Whenever I was in a show and someone needed a wig, I would just figure it out. I finally went back to school and got my Cosmetology license in 2013. I wanted to know the proper way to do the styles. One of my hardest wigs was an Ursula wig for “The Little Mermaid.” We wanted it to look like it was floating underwater. That took a lot of experimenting.

I have also been privileged to work with theaters that have youth programs to teach the kids how to properly maintain and keep the wigs. I created a “Wigs 101” class to teach them the proper care and styling for theatrical wigs. I also taught a Theatrical Makeup class at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.

Elizabeth Summerer (center) Jahnavi Alyssa (seated), Grady Hicks, Michele Selin, and Amy Coles in STEEL MAGNOLIAS – Photo by Gloria Ramirez Plunkett

With the last question in mind, do you have a private business for the general public? If so, how do people reach you? What are your specialties?

Sparks:  Yes! I run “Wigs by Jon” and have a presence on Instagram. I do a lot of theatrical productions as well as princess style wigs for princess party companies and cosplay and anime wig creations. You can reach out to me on Instagram to commission a wig.

What are your upcoming plans? Will you continue to work with Kentwood Players? Will you keep acting? directing? designing makeup and wigs?

Sparks:  I will stay with Kentwood Players. They are my home base theater, and there are many exciting productions coming up in the next few seasons. I can’t miss that! I am a performer at heart and hope to keep being in shows for as long as I can! In the meantime, I will keep working on whatever shows I can doing whatever needs doing. Love live theater!! May it survive and flourish.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS runs through April 6, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Kentwood Players performs at the Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Tickets are $25 (seniors and students $4 discount available online; 10+ group rates $18). For information and reservations, call 310-645-5156, go online, or bo*******@ke*************.org">email.

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