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Improv Conspiracy Blog

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  May 5, 2015

During 2015, Improv Conspiracy member Mike Brown is going to have a chat to every single member of the Conspiracy - about life, about improv, and everything in between. This is: You're Going To Meet Some People.

Today Mike interviews Nadine Sparks. Nadine has played on a variety of Harold teams, and is currently with Shake-A-Stick. She recently ran her own one woman show Rehab as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Mike Brown: Hey Nadine!

Nadine Sparks: Hello!

So I am always curious, how long have you been performing for, and how did you find you find yourself a member of the Improv Conspiracy?

I have been performing since I was four. 

Wow.

And I started performing classical ballet.

Do you still do that?

No. I haven't done ballet in years, and I didn't like it that much. I thought it was a bit dull.  However there was a bit called "free dance", and you could just dance to the music, and I just loved that. 

Just moving your body around and things like that?

Yeah, but the rest of it was really dull. I kept it up until I was about 15. I discovered drama when I was in high school. I went to St. Martin's Drama Academy, and even at that school drama wasn't a big deal, you know? I did plays and stuff like that, and then when I started doing improv and I loved it. Mainly shortform games and Theatresports, but I loved it. Then went to uni and did physical theatre, and a whole lot of different things. I did youth arts for a while, and then I started teaching and stopped performing, and that was a really big mistake. I thought I would get my creative needs means met through teaching.

Through telling other people how to do things rather than doing things yourself?

Yeah [laughs]. It was a bit depressing, you know? So I started doing stand-up, because I really liked making my own stuff up too. So I guess with all of this, most things I've done I've made it up, or I've been in a crew where we have made it up together. Long-form improv is my paradise of performance land - we make it all up, it's characters, and it's just so fun.

So you've been in the Conspiracy for what, two years now?

The whole of last year. I started training with them two years ago, right after [Melbourne International Comedy] Festival two years ago. Started training, trained with them for about six months, and then I got on a team.

And who were you playing with when you got put on a team?

We were The Reluctant Sergeants. So that was Kay [Chan], and Laura Buskes, and Hayley [Tantau]. And they are the only ones who are still here!

How has it changed since you were on the Reluctant Sergeants?

Well Harold Night was only fortnightly then, so now it's obviously weekly. So now I feel like it's just a bigger commitment. And now we have The Remix, and Cage Match, and Rotating Taps, and Play Like A Girl. And this is the first year I've done Comedy Festival with Improv Conspiracy.

Plenty of stuff developing all the time.

Yeah. I feel like it's a really exciting time, and it suits me because I like change. I like things moving, I'm a driver myself. I like it, yeah. I don't like things staying the same, I don't like stagnation.

When you were younger, who was your celebrity crush?

River Phoenix. 

Why River?

Because he was so good looking. I was really disappointed when he died. I had two actually - the other was Michael Hutchence. I had posters all over my wall, Michael Hutchence and River Phoenix.

Oh mannnnnn. A bit harsh for Nadine!

Yeah I pick the drug addicts. [both laugh]. So I had pictures, particularly of Michael Hutchence everywhere, I loved him. I saw INXS four times, but River Phoenix, I always wanted to make a film with him. [laughs]

Maybe not any more.

No, well he died when I was quite young. I mean I was 19 when he died, or something, I don't know. I remember hearing when he died, I remember hearing it on the radio. I lived in a sharehouse where our only entertainment was a radio.

Do you remember how you felt when he died?

I remember saying I was so disappointed. I was living in a share house living on a mattress on the floor, my only entertainment was a radio, and I remember thinking "I was meant to make a film with him!". [laughs]

You thought that's the next step up?

Yeah, maybe I'll break through to Hollywood [both laugh], I couldn't get out of Brisbane! I was stuck in Brisbane, but thought maybe I'd get out and go to Hollywood.

So did you grow up in Queensland?

No, I grew up in Brighton. Everyone thinks I grew up in Queensland. I grew up in Brighton, and I went to Melbourne Girls Grammar. I grew up in Melbourne. My folks moved up to Queensland when I was in year twelve, so I moved up there, and sort of got stuck up there due to a few poor life choices for a bit, and I moved back here in 2001. So I've been in Melbourne for most of my life. But Mum and Dad still live in Brisbane, so most people think "oh you're from Brisbane" and I'm not. I hate it!

No! Never Brisvegas, always Melbourne!

It's so embarrassing, "oh are you from the Gold?"

Are you from the Gold Coast?

I did live there, yeah. I went to rehab on the Gold Coast. 

What were you doing up there?

Oh I did a few things. I worked at a nightclub called Melba's, which is-

A Melbourne inspired nightclub?

Yeah [laughs], and I was a drinks waitress. I just worked in hospitality there for a year, it was fun. 

If you were never able to improvise again, what do you think you'd do instead?

That's such a hard thing. I guess I'd write. I always thought when I was older and didn't want to perform anymore, I'd write. Not plays, just writing.

Like novels or essays or?

Essays, yeah. I feel like that's still improv. I was going to say I'd be a standup comedian or a storyteller, but they both involve improv, you know what I mean?

Both in different ways.

Yeah. I don't know what I'd be like, I don't know. I guess it would have to be writing. I don't even know why I wouldn't be performing.

What inspires you? What do you think would inspire you to write something?

I used to write at uni. Half of my degree was in writing, so I used to write all the time. I'd write novels that I would never send off to publishing houses. Inspired by my life... shit happens all the time, it writes itself man!

So something self-autobiographical or something like that?

Yeah but I'd probably just change all the names [laughs]

Change all the times-

To protect the innocent [laughs]

Mainly you [laughs].

Yeah [laughs]. My show Rebab is quite tricky because a lot of characters were based on people I knew, but I needed to change some things so it wouldn't be too... obvious?

Yeah so it's a bit more original as well.

I don't care about originality.

[laughs]. So is there any one improv book, any article, any podcast that you'd like to recommend to our readers?

Definitely read Mick Napier's book. 

Improvise: Scene From The Outside In.

Improvise: Scene From The Outside In. Yeah, that is my favourite improv book. I'm reading Guru [My Life with Del Close by Jeff Griggs]. I really liked Yes Please, Amy Poehler's book. I know it's not exactly an improv book...

Yeah, it's Amy Poehler's autobiography.

Yeah. My favourite thing about it is 'cast yourself'. She just talks about making your own work. I love her bits of how she fell in love with improv.

Yeah I've got a like a shrine next to my bed, I've got a bookshelf with all the improv books. The Napier one I will probably go back to, and yeah Truth in Comedy. Also, Art by Committee are both amazing books. I've read both of those a couple of times as well.

Any particular things in those books, or maybe out of Improvise that you really took on board?

I liked the notion that, I feel like sometimes we can get caught up in the rules. What I liked about Improvise is that [it says] that you don't have to get caught up [in the rules], you know what I mean? The rules are just there, because when it's a good scene, it's a good scene. And it's got some exercises in the back that are really good to do too. 

I'm so bad at names, but Improv Therapy [by Jimmy Carrane] and also Jason Chin, his book Long-Form Improvisation & The Art Of Zen is a beautiful book. I think when I read one, I just take whatever I read. 

What was the last thing you fanned out over?

Oh god so rarely, because I'm so cool, you know? My ex-husband worked in the music industry, and I've met Eminem. I only just met him for a second, I make it sound like [it was for ages]. I've got shoes Eddie Vedder gave me. But Eddie Vedder is probably my favourite person in the world, yeah.

What was it like meeting all these musicians? Was it sort of blink and you miss it?

Yeah, yeah it was and I just thought it wasn't appropriate to be a fan. 

Be respectful.

Yeah! Because there'd be all these groupies back there, and if you're actually allowed backstage, you have to be respectful. So my husband was a lightning designer, so he'd just be doing his thing, he had a job to do, they'd all communicate with him. 

It sounds like you've been to your fair share of backstage areas then.

Oh yeah, heaps. I was with my husband for twelve years, so I've been backstage everywhere. [laughs]

Ever steal a couple of beers of a rider?

Oh all the time, we'd take anything. My ex used to bring the whole rider home, if it was in Melbourne we'd bring it home.

Wow.

Oh it would just be the water bottles or the cheese or whatever. You'd just take whatever you can. He also did driving off-season, for the big festivals and that was always cool too. So I didn't have to pay for a ticket for nearly twelve years, I could get a ticket to almost any concert I wanted to.

You're also doing your own solo show at the Comedy Festival called Rehab. How was long-form improvisation helped in developing solo work? Has it helped?

Oh certainly. I've used ideas from my training [in the show]. Because I've devised this too, I haven't sat down and written it, I've just played, recorded, played things, done things. Which is really normal for a devising process, working stuff out and changing things. There are certainly things that happen all the time, in the middle of training or doing a Harold or doing The Remix that I'm like "yes! that's what I need to do for my show". So yeah, improv helps, it's opened my mind up to different possibilities I think.

What's your every day breakfast?

A green smoothie, which I make the night before.

What goes into a green smoothie?

I usually put in spinach leaves, a banana, mint, coconut juice, and one other ingredient. Sometimes a bit of almonds? Yeah, and that's it. And I make it the night before and drink it on the way to work.

Something to have on the go.

Yeah, yeah, because I'm not a morning person.

So don't bother Nadine in the morning?

No, no. I set out my clothes the night before, so I can get up and go.

How early do you get up before you can go then?

Sometimes I can do it in 15 minutes.

Yeah, because I'm about the same.

I have a shower the night before, and all that sort of stuff. It's nice to have a shower in the morning but I don't have time. All I do is drink a coffee and get dressed and leave.

Run out the door, straight to work.

Yeah and then work's about a 20 minute drive, and I have another cuppa at work.

What's it like on days off? Do you sleep in and take your time?

Yeah definitely. I woke up at 9:30 which is actually pretty good for me, I often sleep to midday on the weekends. Because if you think about it, we're in improv, we're out almost every night of the week until 11, I'm normally up to 1:30 at night.

Yeah because it's that thing where after a show, after a training, it takes a little while to come down from it. Your brain is ticking to relax, so that means you can't lie in bed and fall asleep instantly.

Yeah and I do all sorts of things. I write stuff, I do meditation. All sorts of stuff. I'm wide awake - midnight is like the witching hour for me. But I put telly on - I've got two televisions in my one bedroom apartment, and one's in my bedroom and I put that on and fall asleep. Since I discovered that I fall asleep much easier. I used to not fall asleep sometimes, I had really bad insomnia.

Someone said to me "so and so's got ADD and he used to watch TV" and I thought "I'm going to try that".

I do that sometimes with podcasts, I turn one on, set a sleep timer and that will knock me out.

Yeah it's nice to get into your own rhythm with it.

We have a question from the Improv Conspiracy Student Group. Andrew S asks: Do you have a mantra? If so, what is it?

I don't have a mantra, but I do gratitude lists.

What's a gratitude list?

I do gratitude lists about improv, and I do other ones. So I think about anything that I'm grateful for in my life. Sometimes it's really mundane - I'm really grateful that I have a job. With improv I try to do a gratitude list before I go on stage, because I just feel that makes me more positive. 

And this is just internal, you don't share it with anyone?

Yeah I don't share it with anyone, I just do it by myself. I'll just go "I'm really grateful for the opportunity to perform, and I'm really grateful for my team, and I'm really grateful for this," and it just helps me get in a more positive vibe.

That's really cool.

Yeah I was going through a time when I was constantly thinking "oh I hope I perform properly", and it was when I read Mick Napier's book, I realised that gratitude helps me be in the moment.

It's helped?

Yeah, and it helps with my anxiety too. I've got really bad anxiety, so I do gratitude lists and boom, I'm out of it.

That's great!

So it's a powerful thing for me. No mantra, but gratitude lists.

Anything you want to plug before we wrap this one up?

Come to my show, it's called Rehab, and it's at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It's at the Downstairs Lounge at the Grand Mercure at 9:45. It's a solo character show, and it's heaps of fun. And Play Like A Girl!

That one's on the first half of the Comedy Festival at the Croft Institute.

And also if you're new to improv just keep coming back.

Come to Harold Night, come to The Remix.

Come to Harold Night, come to The Remix, just keep doing the classes, do some Cage Matches, just keep coming back. If there's something that's drawn you here, keep coming back - you'll reap the rewards.

We have a question from the last person who was interviewed. Sophie Fernandes asks: What is your spirit animal and why?

I don't know but I feel like, when you said that I went into deer, but I don't know if that's just 'cause I like Harry Potter [laughs]. I've never thought about a spirit animal. I think it would be bunjil, because that's who I'm supposed to be?

Bunjil? What's a bunjil?

Bunjil is the indigenous creator of Melbourne, of Victoria, yeah. Bunjil is an eagle, so that's the animal that I relate to.

You just want to soar high over the city?

Yeah I love the idea of bunjil, I love indigenous culture. Anything about it, I get really moved by it.

We always finish this by asking if you have any question for the next interviewee. Improv or otherwise.

When did you first know you were in love with improv?

When was that for you?

When I was a child I loved it, but when I finished school I thought "this is really boring. What am I, fifteen?"  So I think just doing a Harold, I realised again that I love this.

This is what I want to be doing for a long time?

Yeah, yeah. I also used to do with Zen Zen Zo in Brisbane, The Flow, which is physical theatre but it's improvised. Yeah, it's how I get my zen.