U theater grad aims to remind people that the arts are valid


Photo credit: Erin West

U theater studies graduate, Aaron Sparks, found himself in an unexpected place after graduation – working as a financial administrator.

“You don’t always find yourself in your same field of study after you graduate,” Sparks said, “so most of my theater work has been on the side.”

Sparks is not alone in seeing his career stray far from what he studied in college.

According to a November 2013 study from the website CareerBuilder, about one-third of college-educated American workers were not employed within their field of study after graduation.

Though the alum is responsible for business accounts during the day, he continues to write and perform on the side. Since graduating, Sparks has performed in a few productions, including workshops at the U about unconscious biases. Right now he is rehearsing for the Sugar Factory Playhouse and West Jordan Theater Arts’ production of the musical, “Hairspray.”

Sparks plays the role of Corny Collins, star of a dance show in Baltimore. Show contestant, Tracy Turnblad, launches a campaign to promote social integration, exposing the injustices of American society in the 1960s.

“I decided I wasn’t going to do musicals anymore because they’re a lot of work,” said Denise Gull, director of the show. “When I choose something [to direct], it has to have something to say and, because of ‘Hairspray’s’ themes of segregation and weight issues, the show meant something to me. Even though it’s a fun musical with dancing and singing, it says something important too. So I thought that if I was going to do another musical, this was the one to do.”

Gull had kind words for Sparks’ work personality. “Sparks has a kind of effervescence about him and has such good chemistry with the cast,” he said. “He’s always there and ready to give his 110 percent. That’s the kind of person you want to work with.”

Along with Gull, Sparks tends to use theater as a platform to raise awareness on social issues.

“There are a lot of stories that haven’t been told in the theatrical medium,” he said. “It’s hard though, after graduating, because you’re used to allocating time to your craft in school. Once you graduate, though, you don’t have that grade to get. You have to really make an effort.”

Sparks’s ultimate goal is to be a self-sufficient playwright. His current project is about the consequences of drug addiction and criminal history.

“My goal is kind of in proving the validity of theater,” he said. “We forget that’s kind of something we have to do as artists in some form, whether intentional or not. You think of the University of Utah as a research and medical institution so even in an educational setting, we almost still have to prove the arts are valid and that we need it in our lives.”

“Hairspray” will run July 7-18 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on July 9, at the Midvale Performing Arts Center. More information at SugarFactoryPlayhouse.com.

[email protected]