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What's it like to be Sparky?

April 8 screening of "Being Sparky. Forks Up. Mask Off." is free, open to public
March 22, 2019

Barrett student-produced documentary takes viewers behind the scenes with one of the students who play the ASU mascot

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be Sparky, Arizona State University’s mascot?

What happens when you don the iconic Sparky mask and uniform to transform from an everyday student into the campus superhero? How it feels to be loved by students, parents, alumni and others in the university community?

How to handle mobs of people who want to crowd around and touch you? How to withstand the heat while performing in Sun Devil Stadium during an early fall home football game?

A Barrett, The Honors College senior who is majoring in business data analytics and sports business knows exactly what it takes to be Sparky. He has been the mascot throughout his years at ASU, appearing at events to promote school spirit and to cheer on ASU sports teams. 

ASU mascot Sparky stands on a basketball court and waves to the crowd

ASU mascot Sparky plays to the crowd at a basketball tournament game. Photo courtesy of Ellie Millon

The student, whose name must be kept confidential until his duties as Sparky come to an end next month, is the subject and one of the producers of a documentary — titled “Being Sparky. Forks Up. Mask Off.” — that shows how he came to be Sparky, his experiences as the university mascot, and how it has affected him.

The documentary is the honors creative project for him and three of his fellow Barrett students. They began the project in August of last year.

A screening of the film is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 8, in the Vista del Sol Theater, located in the Vista del Sol student residential complex near Apache Boulevard and McAllister Avenue. Immediately following the 15-minute film will be a question-and-answer session with students who worked on the project. The event is free and open to the public.

Ellie Millon, a marketing and finance major, helped with production and is handling marketing for the documentary and finding venues to screen it. She hopes to get it into Pollack Tempe Cinemas and the FilmBar in downtown Phoenix. Elizabeth Baxter, a computer information systems major, composed music for the film. Ben Ashby, a junior majoring in film and media production, is the film’s director and editor. Along with the documentary's star Sparky, Millon and Baxter are seniors and will graduate in May. 

Millon said that while filming the project, she and the other students learned some interesting things about Sparky:

• There are more than a half-dozen people who play Sparky, and while they are in costume, they are not allowed to appear together in the same place at the same time.

• University staffers maintain a schedule for each Sparky and accompany them on appearances.

• People sometimes behave inappropriately and do not seem to realize that a real person portrays Sparky.

Learn more about the mascot experience at the April 8 screening.

Top photo: If you're going to be Sparky, you have to be unafraid of performing in front of crowds. Photo courtesy of Ellie Millon

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College

480-965-8415

Renowned theater artist visits ASU Theatre for Youth program


March 22, 2019

In 1988, a spaceship crash landed in a school playground in London. Tim Webb, an internationally renowned theater artist, was behind the crash — it was the setting for a multi-sensory, interactive theater production developed just for the students at the school for special education.

Webb, who visited Arizona State University last week for a residency with the Theatre for Youth program in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and Max Reinhardt were pushing boundaries in theater when they formed Oily Cart in 1981 to make interactive theater for 2 to 5-year-olds. A few years later, when they were asked to perform at that London special school for children who “were classified as having sensory, physical, intellectual and behavioral disabilities,” they were inspired to create something new. Photo of Tim Webb and ASU theatre for youth students Tim Webb, an internationally renowned theater artist, visited ASU for a residency with the Theatre for Youth program in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. Photo by Tim Trumble. Download Full Image

“We realized that any show we did would have to be multi-sensory,” Webb said. “We couldn’t rely on those theater standbys of what could be seen and heard, and it would have to be interactive so that it could adapt to the many different personalities and abilities. It also needed to last longer than the average young people’s theater show so the young audience could take the time to get used to us performers and for us to get used them.”

They created a production that lasted the whole school day. When the young people arrived in school, they found the crashed spaceship. From the site emerged "three rather jolly aliens with long striped tails who most significantly, knew nothing of life on earth."

"They asked the audience why they were making black marks on white surface and found out this was called writing," Webb said. “Each young person in the school knew more about this world than the aliens, and I believe that many of them found the experience not just amusing but empowering.”

They were invited to perform in other schools around London, and since that show, Oily Cart has produced one new special education needs production each year.

Webb stepped down as artistic director of Oily Cart last year, but said, “I don’t think I’ve got the hang of this retirement business.”

Since then he has written and directed a show in Sweden for audiences who are defined as having Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) or who are considered to be on the autism spectrum. It is touring in Scandinavia until 2021. He taught for three weeks in the U.S. He revived the Oily Cart show “Splish Splash,” which takes place in hydrotherapy pools and will tour in the United Kingdom through July. He has plans to travel to Sichuan, China, to help a theater there develop theater in children’s hospitals. And he just spent a week in residency at ASU. During his time here, he worked with ASU Theatre for Youth students to develop a production for young people with PMLD. Webb and the students performed the piece for a group of young people from Believe I Can Academy on Friday, March 15.

Webb also took some time to answer a few questions.

Question: What creative capacities do artists grow working with these audiences?

Anser: Observation, empathy, flexibility, creativity.

Q: During your residency here at ASU, what has it been like working with our Theatre for Youth students?

A: It's been great. They are an extraordinarily most-talented and hard-working bunch who are lovely to be around.

Q: What is something you have learned throughout your career that you want to share with theater artists just starting out?

A: That everything seems to take a little bit longer than you first thought possible. But stick at it. With sufficient time you can engage any audience.

Q: What is a question you wish people would ask you and how would you answer?

A: Why should more people create this work? Because you will be able to reach out to and engage people who because of their sensor, physical and cognitive impairment are often cut off from the people and the world around them and show them the wonders that surround them.

Sarah A. McCarty

Communications and marketing coordinator, School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute

480-727-4433