Interview On Voice Mag (Arts Awards Voice) – Margarita Dreams

Group shot of the cast

Group shot of the cast

By: Tom Inniss
Richard Sparks takes some time to talk to Voice about the Margarita Dreams, inspirations, and to give advice to young people.

Hello! Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Richard Sparks, veteran comedy/script/libretto/lyric writer and director. I’ve written Margarita Dreams for four young talents I’ve been mentoring by Skype from Los Angeles, where I have lived for the last 25 years.

How would you describe your show?

All-new, all-action, freewheeling sketch comedy. Seemingly unstructured, but somehow interconnected, the scenes flow in and out of each other with the surreal logic of margarita-powered dreams. Welcome to the world of Margarita, where peculiar is the new normal.

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I wrote and appeared in two Fringe Oxford Revues (starring Mel Smith) in the 1970s, and two later shows presented by the Richard Demarco Gallery. Edinburgh is where my life as a writer started, and I’m so happy to be heading back there with these four young performers at the start of their careers.

What differentiates it from other festivals?

No other festival has had such a profound effect on me – not just with creating our shows, but from all the other shows I have seen there over the years.

Do you think the Fringe has changed over the years? If so, how? Are these changes positive or negative?

It is far more professionally-run now. In 1976, we called Ricky Demarco up in June and he gave us a slot right away at his Gallery. We started writing and opened a few weeks later. In 2017 we learned pretty quickly we needed to get everything (including script) ready by April. And months of hard work have followed. This I believe is a change for the better. Margarita Dreams is a true, professional production. To be involved in something this well- organised (thanks to our managers, PW Productions, and the Underbelly staff) will be an experience of immense value to my young cast.

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I’ve always been a writer. Nothing was going to deflect me from that. I became a director later, as it is sometimes the same job (or a continuation of it) – certainly when directing/creating a new work (as opposed to a revival). Inspirations from an early age: The Marx Brothers; I’m Sorry I’ll Read That AgainAt the Drop of Another Hat (live, Flanders and Swann); Spike Milligan live onstage in Son of Oblomov.

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

Hanging out at Sporting Life Bar, the tavern I own in Las Vegas. It’s a neighbourhood bar, for the locals, five miles from the tourist chaos of the Strip. It opened in 2014 and is my pride and joy. I’ve learned that the hospitality business is very like showbiz: you get a bunch of people in a room and give them a good time. Why Las Vegas? Well, a Nevada Tavern like SLB is licensed to have fifteen slot machines. I’ve been a lifelong poker player since Mel Smith taught me at Oxford, and have played in several World Series of Poker tournaments, including three Main Events. I’m not very good but enjoy it; but here’s the point: the old saying is “If you want to make money gambling, own a casino”. And I do.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

Professional five string banjo player. I’ve been playing for 30 years and am still frustratingly mediocre. If I could be John Hickman for just one day… Or Noam Pikelny, Eddie Adcock, Jim Mills… I can but dream.

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

Bunny Goes West. A cartoon strip by me (words) and Hugh Christie (pictures). We were six years old. Bunny was a gunslinger. And a rabbit. The “baddie” was, of course, named Hank. All Americans were named Hank. Hank had a moustache. The showdown in the street between Bunny (now Sheriff of Deadwood Gulch) and Hank’s gang was clearly the inspiration for Sergio Leone’s masterpieces.

Do you ever feel any pressure to be a social commentator, or constantly update material to respond to events?

No. John Lloyd kindly commissioned me as a staff writer on Not the Nine O’Clock News, but I contributed little of note. I don’t really think like a political comedian / satirist. I was disappointed with my input and wished I could have done better. Writing Margarita Dreams, on the other hand, was effortless. It all came pouring out in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, writing is a struggle, and you just have to keep at it and wrestle it into submission. At other times, it is a magic carpet ride that reminds you why you love this job.

Equally, do you think there has been a shift in public sentiment that has affected your work?

My job is to keep ahead of the audience, and come up with stuff that they don’t expect, and never saw coming. If I am writing to “public sentiment”, I am following, not leading. And that is the tail wagging the dog.

Describe the last year in 5 words or less.

An unexpected burst of inspiration

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

Richard Wagner. I love a challenge.

Margarita Dreams plays Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 from 2 – 28 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

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