By Sue Moore
Melissa Sparks is Vicksburg’s director of plays and musicals, and her last name fits her personality perfectly. She has been the “sparkplug” behind productions at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) for the last ten years, while elevating the performances to a very high level, according to Tim Fuller, manager of the theater.
“She has complete control of the 30 plus 4th to 8th grade students performing in Seussical, Jr. musical, while motivating them to do their very best,” Fuller commended. “Each year she has been here, the shows have gotten better and better. We do three shows during the school year and she directs them all with great gusto and lots of help from Dusty Morris and Karla Stubblefield if the play is a musical.”
Although the curtain has come down on Seussical, Sparks will be turning right around and directing the high school students in a play called “All in The Timing, Six One-Act Comedies,” on November 20, 21, and 22 at the PAC. It is already in rehearsal with a cast of 16, encompassing 18 individual parts. It’s a delightful comedy that will keep the audience laughing throughout, Sparks said.
Caleb Dziepak, a senior will play Trotsky, in one vignette called Variations on the Death of Trotsky. The wife is played by Emily Towns, a sophomore. Both students have been in Sparks drama program for years and are able to deliver some very funny lines, the audience will love, she said. Another of the one-act comedies is called Words, Words, Words, which features typing into infinity and will sooner or later produce Hamlet. Staring in this piece are Andrew Phelps, a junior; Robin Willhite, a freshman, and Riley Robertson-DeGraaf.
“The goal is for the youth group performing in musicals to be as good as what a high school show would look like,” Sparks enthused. “Out high school shows should be professional and rival anything that comes to Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo. People who attend our shows often remark at how shocked they are at how good these kids can be. We have high expectations for our kids, and believe because of that, they will achieve anything they set out to do in this world. A handful have gone on to be in the theater through their college courses, and some have become music educators. A good example is Carver Duncan, a 2009 graduate who attended New York University to study drama, and now is touring in a national company. Kaitelin Fruehauf, one of our star performers, is studying at Wayne State now and her little sister has a part in Seussical.”
“Theater training helps youth grow as people, they learn creativity, build confidence, learn teamwork, and responsibility. We have students who become the off-stage managers, props, make-up, and gain lots of valuable experience in this environment. It’s magical to watch a student ‘get it’ for the first time,” she said.
Sparks was bitten by the bug in middle school while performing in A Christmas Carol. She is from a Detroit suburb, but her family has had a summer cottage on Howard Lake for years and she spent many summers in this area, as well as graduating from Western Michigan University in 2004 with a theater degree. She stayed in the area because she discovered that it was a mecca for theater, performing and directing as she has at the Civic, Farmers’ Alley, and producing musicals at Portage Central. She now teaches at WMU for a class of 360 students called ‘Direct Encounter with the Arts’. All this while balancing a two month old infant, a four year-old and her husband who is the social media director for Channel 3. “Nothing holds me back,” Sparks exclaimed.