Art Post: What the Fur!? – Sparf

It was suggested by a few folks that it would be good to do a semi-regular feature on some of the wonderful art that may not follow the norm of what’s posted out there.  Today, we’re stepping away from the normal visual art, somewhat, and into the realm of theater, with Sparf’s one-man-show, “What the Fur!? Stories and Text from the Furry Fandom”

This post will differ from the previous art posts in a few ways.  Firstly, rather than providing a sample of a few images with links back to the artist’s gallery, the show as posted to YouTube is embedded below.  I very much recommend watching through the whole thing, as there is so much wonderful involved here.  If you don’t have time now, set aside about half an hour later today to watch through the whole thing.  Additionally, we were lucky enough to have the chance to interview Sparf over email in order to get some more information about the work.  Check it out!

[adjective][species]:
Tell us a little about yourself and your character.

Sparf:
I’m a 29 year old Virginia native living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. I hold an Associates degree in Computer Networking from Mountain Empire Community College, a Bachelor’s in Speech/Theatre with a History minor from East Tennessee State University, and, thanks to this show and 3 years of work, a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from the Catholic University of America. I have been a furry since around 1998, but only really learned a lot about the fandom and became a participating member around 2008; that was the year that I attended my first Anthrocon.

My furry character is a wolf, but green and with some foxlike markings in addition to a black eyepatch. He shares most of my attributes and I often appear in fursuit with a Washington Capitals hockey jersey or a matching lime-green chef’s jacket, or just casual in a hawaiian shirt. He evolved from an older character of mine who had the same markings but was grey and far too serious and gloomy. I figured if I was going to make up a two-legged, walking, talking fursona, why not make him a fancy and fun color too. He embodies positive energy, which is what I really try to pour into this fandom.

The character in my show is an amalgam of myself and stories collected from fandom interviews and given to me by some fellow members of the Furry Writers Guild.

[a][s]:
What made you decide to mix furry and theater into a show like this?

Sparf:
To be honest, I needed a topic for my Master’s thesis, and I went through everything that I could possibly do to play to my strengths. In other words, the things that I was most passionate about, and I realized that one of them was Furry, and that I could help bring some of the really colorful individuals in the fandom to life on stage. And above all, I could do it in a way that would bring a positive light onto the fandom, the public knowledge of which is often a benign ignorance at best, and the occasional sensationalist television special or negative comment by a well-known geek icon at the worst. Plus, something in me wanted to get at the heart of why it is that I myself am in the fandom. What that journey was. And while some of it is fictionalized and some of it incorporates stories from other sources, the core of it, its essence, is just me.

[a][s]:
Does much of theater feel like this, or is that something that is unique to your own performance?

Sparf:
It very much depends on the actor. An actor I recently worked with finds all the mental work to be unnecessary. To him it is a matter of speaking the words as written and the character will reveal itself. I find that in most of my work I do a lot of world building. I create the character’s world in my head during rehearsals and it allows me to go on that journey with them. When it comes time to perform, all of that is reduced to instinct and reaction rather than thought. In other words, I build the structure, and then I let go, trusting it will be there to support the work. But when I am doing good work, when I know that all the pieces are in place, yes, it does feel like that.

[a][s]:
What was the genesis of the show?

Sparf:
I had been reading journals on FurAffinity and someone linked to DogBomb. I read through several journals of his, things he’d done in fursuit at the beach like helping a lost little girl find her parents (I think. Something of that nature), or bringing a smile to the face of someone in a wheelchair. I knew that sort of thing was out there. Here in Maryland/DC/NOVA there is a group called Critters for a Cause that unites folks with mascot-like characters to appear at events and do charity work. I, myself learned the power of these kinds of costumes in brightening someone’s day when I marched with my mate’s church in a local Labor Day parade last year and one of the parishoners’ daughters, maybe 3 or 4 years old at most, without question, came to me, hugged me, and held my hand almost the entire time before the parade began. Later I found out that she would talk about me and my mate (also in costume. His is a tiger), as her animal friends and how she couldn’t wait to see us again.

[a][s]:
Were you nervous at all, performing in suit in front of an audience of (I’m assuming) mostly non-furs?

Sparf:
I was not concerned about performing for non furs so much as I was concerned about performing for members of the clergy that were present as well as the older, potentially more conservative crowd that CUA has the potential to attract. But I also put aside concerns about the audience. When I step on stage my job is to embody the character. And the character harbors none of those concerns.

[a][s]:
Clergy! Wow! What sort of reactions did you get?

Sparf:
The response to my show, as well as the other two of my classmates who performed that day, was overwhelmingly positive. The priests who came were young priests, or, at least, priests of my own age or so. They were friends of classmates that they’d made during our time here. But even so, that collar can be intimidating.

[a][s]:
How do you see theater fitting in with the growing fandom?

Sparf:
I think that it’s among the next logical places for our fandom to grow into. We have a very strong literary element, with 3 major small press publishers, several more smaller ones, and a growing realization that furry literature isn’t automatically garbage. We’ve got steps into the realm of animation (see Wolf or the Out of Position Animatic), and probably more I’m not aware of. There is audio work starting to be done in the fandom now. We have musicians of almost every ilk. Theatre is just one more creative endeavor. The question is, how do we make it ours? Do we do theatre ABOUT furries as a culture, or do we write anthropomorphic characters into plays? Do we adapt old stories by our longtime favorite authors? update the old fable tropes? There’s already some theatre going on. Skits in the masquerades at various conventions, for one thing. There are also the ‘Whose Lion is it Anyway?’ improv games, which come directly or indirectly from the work of Viola Spolin, one of the great innovators of modern theatre.

It does work the other way sometimes. During rehearsals for at least two plays I have performed in my career, we were asked to envision an animal for our character and use that to inform their physicality and ways of speaking. Afterward I tended to do that for most of my roles and it usually helped create a more rounded character. That, to me, was taking furry and putting the fundamental skill of imagination at it fosters and funneling it into another endeavor.

[a][s]:
Lots of good thoughts, here. Regarding your first thought, do you think the few movies that have come out of the fandom in recent years are headed in a good direction?

Sparf:
I think absolutely. Wolf, though a very long way from being finished, is a step in the right direction for animation. Of course, who could forget the landmark film of this past year, Bitter Lake. I very much enjoyed it, and I encourage folks to pick it up to support such efforts in the fandom.

[a][s]:
Secondly, do you think that species selection has much to do with temperament, sort of as a side-effect of the imagination in the fandom?

Sparf:
I would say it does for some, but not all. Some people pick a species because of aesthetics, or because it was their favorite animal. I generally identify with wolves because of some of the similarities between their social behaviors and mine.

[a][s]:
People often say that being in suit is like a performance, and you hint at those aspects in your show. Does fursuiting ever feel like actually being on stage?

Sparf:
To me it does, quite often, feel that way. Which is why I very much try to treat it with respect. The great acting teacher Stanislavsky can be quoted as saying “Let him who does not know the threshold of the stage never cross it,” and in my way I agree with that absolutely. Part of my training in my MFA was in Neutral Mask, the basis of masked performance. We learned the physicality that has been developed from several hundred years of masked-performance tradition, beginning at least as far back as Commedia Dell’Arte. I see myself as one of those Commedia performers, known as Zanni, who were free in interacting with the crowd. But the stage is still there. Not a proscenium stage as we most often think of theatre but a living, 3 dimensional space in which I must portray the character fully. If I don’t do that or am not willing to commit, I don’t step onto the “stage” to begin with.

[a][s]:
Do you have any plans for future shows or performances involving furry?

Sparf:
I have plans to write my existing show out to an hour’s length. There is some material that I cut for time and thematic purposes. I don’t know where or when I will have a chance to perform it, but I still want to. I feel I owe it to the piece. As for other things, I do occasionally do story readings for both the Anthrodreams podcast and the Bad Dog Book Club, and have some other audio projects deep in the works. My first real interest in acting was in voice acting, and I’ve wanted to bring that passion into the fandom as well. I hope to see more theatricality develop as the fandom grows and moves forward, certainly, and I also hope to be involved with it.

About Makyo

Makyo spends her time as a frumpy arctic fox, usually, but she’s all over the map. She’s been around furry since about 2000 under a variety of names. She writes, programs, and screws around with music.

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One thought on “Art Post: What the Fur!? – Sparf

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! I was hesitant to spend 30 minutes to watch “some video”, but absolutely loved this.

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