|Dennis J. Sparks. Source: The Columbian files.|
graying now, but looking at least ten years younger, is a story-teller.
His love for stories and theater began at an early stage, performing in front of the blanket that served as a curtain. He and his friends would put on shows—short plays based on TV programs they watched as kids. Then, as a sophomore at
he got involved in drama and the fire was ignited. Bay High School
The Sparks That Ignited It All
“It was sort of on a whim,” said
Sparks, “my Mom talked me into it.” And he
found that he loved the applause and laughter. He said, “at the time it was
[only] acting, but evolved into a whole lot of other things.”
Over time he began directing as well. Then he was starting and running new theater companies. Soon he was writing shows, producing and more. Now he’s ventured into filmmaking.
His new film “Nightbumpers” will premier at Kiggins Theater this June. A year in the making, this feature length movie stars local talent and was shot entirely in
. But that journey began
more than 60 years ago. Clark
After high school
to and studied under Hermine
Decker, performing in nearly every show (up to six per year) for his two-year stint. The theater bug was burning like a fever and, with an internship
landed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he moved to Clark College Ashland to fan the flame.
Fanning the Flames
He recalls that the experience was a great one and even though he played only small roles he got exposed to great talent. After a while, he decided to stay in
to attend Southern Oregon College (now University). Two years in, Uncle Sam came
calling him to Vietnam.
Registered as a conscientious objector, he “served his time” stateside in
working with children. Buffalo, NY,
At first, he worked with Blue Parrot Theater in Camas as their Artistic Director, directing most of their shows for two years. He played Capt. Von Trapp in the Peanut Gallery production of “The Sound of Music” and directed their production of “Oliver!” He was doing a lot of shows as an actor in
Portland, as well, and was
in the very last show at the Civic Theater there.
|Sparks in his film "Nightbumpers"|
In the 1980s, he founded On the Edge theater company and then Heartland Theatre Productions. Heartland has created productions for more than 20 years at The Old Church in
Portland and at the Columbia
The company’s shows and actors have won numerous acting and production awards
including the coveted C.A.T.E. Awards for best over-all productions of “West
Side Story,” “Sweet Charity” and “Witness For the Prosecution.”
He’s enjoyed playing The Old Shakespearean in “The Fantastics!” which he said he played four or five times, and the role of Starbuck in “The Rainmaker.” Having played more lawyers than anything else, he said his most difficult role was He in the Russian play “He Who Gets Slapped” because he had to do a Russian accent and get slapped so many times.
Stoking the Inferno
He began writing plays while in
Buffalo; his first being “Games” an avant-garde piece modeled after shows he liked.
The one-act, now a full length play, was nominated for several awards. Sparks has written half a
dozen plays and as many screenplays. His short film “Wordspeaker,” was a
finalist at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
“It’s amazing what kinds of minds you can wake up,” he said, “it’s not something you can predict. There’s something that can be said about theater waking up a part of the psyche.” He said to never underestimate people and what you think they may or may not enjoy. He believes in the educational value of theater in the culture, but he also believes in cinema as a great storyteller.
He got into filmmaking when he realized there was "no place to do [original] theater." He could do the writing, but “didn’t have the ‘whatever’ to do the technical” so he gathered others about him to ignite his vision. The first effort was “Wordspeaker” a movie starring KXL’s Clyde Lewis as an end of the world talk show host.
|The film "Nightbumpers" premiers at|
Kiggins Theater this June.
Soon he produced the first 30 minutes of “Nightbumpers” and showed it at the Battle Ground theater. A year later—slowly funding the effort and shooting around the casts’ busy schedules—the film is complete. It premiers at Kiggins Theater June 9 showing at 8:15 p.m. and again at 2 p.m. on the 10th.
The theme of “Nightbumpers” is the importance of stories and storytellers in our civilization—a theme that burns passionately in the heart of
fantasy-thriller tells the tale of Val Corman (John Rowe) a graphics
novelist whose stories revolve around creatures of the night. But one of his
creations of the Dark doesn’t want to be exposed and it comes after him with a
vengeance. Thus begins an epic battle between the Light and Dark for the
control of the Stories of the World.
“True, there may be things that go ‘bump in the night’ but, there are also, on occasion, things that…bump back!” says filmmaker,
The film was completely shot in
Vancouver and all of the actors are from the
local area. Sparks
not only wrote and produced the film, he stars in a supporting role.
The Blaze Burns On
But it is theater that has always been
Sparks’ love. He loves seeing it, doing it
and writing about it. He has reviewed shows for this blog as well as the (now defunct) Vancouver Voice and for UnCouvered.com.
So what does the future hold for Mr. Sparks?
“I’m going to write film off after this,” said
Sparks with a half chuckle, citing all the
work involved. “Well, of course, we learned a lot,” he said, so three months
from now, “maybe I’ll change my mind.” He’s ready to direct another play, he
said, eager to tinder another story.
“We’re losing our story-telling—our stories,” said the storyteller, “and storytellers are important in our culture” and, that, he adds, is what “Nightbumpers” is all about.
By Gregory E. Zschomler