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Rising Stars: Meet Kat Sparks of Austin (South)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kat Sparks.

Hi Kat, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I was born in Alabama and later moved to Los Angeles, California where I was an actor for ten years.  I became a commercial real estate agent to pay the bills between acting jobs, which led me to Charlie Matthau, Walter Matthau’s son. Charlie hired me to write script coverage for his film company, and this turned into a side job I would do for other film companies over the years. I eventually moved to New Jersey, but after the financial freefall of 2009 I made the decision to move to Austin to be near my sisters. Once here, I began acting in local theatre.

Although I started out as an actor I soon discovered my strength was in writing and directing. I eventually co-founded a theatre company, Southwest Theatre Productions, and wrote a comedy to produce as our first play. A few weeks before opening night I got a call from the producers of the Jimmy Kimmel Show asking if they could relocate our production. They needed the stage we had rented to film a portion of their show during SXSW. Because they worked hard on our behalf to secure a much better venue with more seats to fill, we actually made money on our very first show. Through this experience I learned a lot about budgeting and marketing a production, which prepared me for the next show and the next, as we continued to grow. Soon playwrights began sending plays to us, and I discovered most are unaware of why their work never sees a full production. This gave me a niche. I coach writers on what it will take to get their plays produced, sometimes even by us.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle in Austin when it comes to theatre production, has been venue sourcing. There are over one hundred theatre companies and only five or six available stages to rent. It’s a struggle to get a three-week show up on its feet with so few rental options, and the cost can be extravagant. So during blackout periods I continue to write. I wrote a screenplay which has won over a dozen festivals and is currently in preproduction with a streaming film studio. So, many times a challenge presents substantial growth. A lot depends on how you move through obstacles.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
My company has produced more than twenty plays in Austin, and almost all have been newly written, unproduced work. Through this process I discovered I’m attracted to original work with a social conscience, especially those that transfer easily to film or television. These aren’t easy to find, so we began “Rising Artists,” an annual, international competition and festival, now in its fourth year. We also hold themed competitions throughout the year on a smaller scale. And each season, other than during the pandemic, we produce a sort of elevated, fully performed, stage reading of plays we discover through our competitions. We recently became a Small Professional Theatre (SPT) with Actors Equity Association and are looking forward to what changes this will bring in 2022.

But what I enjoy the most is working with writers. They may have an award-winning play, but no one is producing it. Why? The story might be great and the format flawless, but it simply isn’t very “producible.” I show them what can be done to improve their chances, and even how to produce the play themselves if that’s the best option. There are a lot of “a-ha” moments once they begin to look at their script from the producer’s standpoint.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
There are only two risks in life:  action and inaction.  Once you realize they carry equal weight you won’t spend so much time wondering if you made the right choice.

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Image Credits
Aleksander Ortynski

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