What is the definition of HTI—Hug Transmitted Infection? Mike Spara tells you in his wordless solo sketch, "Give That Guy a Hug," one of more than 14 that constitute his show Conversations With ... Body Language. In the “Hug” sketch, Spara portrays a man who wants to give out free hugs. In the background, words on a projection screen explain that the man who is trying to give away free hugs is “totally clean and free of STDs: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or to use the less archaic term, STIs: Sexually Transmitted Infections.” They state that the man just wants to spread love and bring peace to people across the world, while Spara assures the audience that there is no such thing as an HTI.
Spara has written and directed this wordless solo comedy as a dedication to the art of silent comedic legends Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His show combines live sketches and pre-recorded pieces shown on a projection screen. He uses the projection like a vintage movie screen displaying title cards with dialogue but also as a prop. For example, one bit includes pre-recorded footage of a man jogging around a neighborhood and climbing fences like Spider-Man. At one point, the man stops to grab a cup of coffee. In creating the illusion that the character has jumped off the screen, Spara then jogs into the theater with the coffee in hand.
In another sketch with the title of "Interlude," singer-songwriter Sia’s music video Chandelier plays in the background as Spara proceeds to perform a two-finger puppet show. His finger puppet humorously mimics Sia’s dance moves in the video.
Even though Spara’s characters are silent, this does not mean that they are emotionless. Spara’s hard work shows extreme dedication with his distinctive character choices and physical actions. His eyes are very expressive and his physical movements are pertinent to each of his characters.
Spara is an artist willing to push boundaries to make his characters real. This includes eating some unappetizing foods and making love to a life-size Buzz Lightyear balloon. In the sketch, "A Day in the Park," Spara portrays a dog who is exploring the park on his own. The dog brings a bag of Beggin’ Strips treats with him to the park. He finds people in the park (audience members) to feed the treats to him. Spara actually eats the dog treats. That shows the actor's true commitment to each character.
Spara certainly applies Buster Keaton's statement, “I always want the audience to out-guess me, and then I want to double-cross them” in his own comedic artistry. Each sketch is well-written, witty and unpredictable. At surface value, the various sketch plots (i.e. a conductor conducting a symphony, a boxing match, and a father and son playing baseball) appear uninteresting and simple. However, Spara makes them entertaining by using visual comedy, very specific props, and musical sound tracks that complement the action and obscure twists.
One notable plot twist was during the sketch, "Special Delivery," where Spara’s character receives a large package via a toss by the courier instead of a hand delivery. After a strenuous struggle to open the package, Spara finds an eye patch. Although Spara's character doesn't need an eye patch, he puts it on and starts dancing flirtatiously and winking at all the ladies as disco music sets in.
Spara displays his vulnerability on stage in the versatility of each sketch character. His wordless sketch comedy embodies Charlie Chaplin's quote: “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” Spara can be seen making a glorious fool of himself at the 10th annual FRIGID Festival.
Mike Spara's Conversations with Body Language's last show is Saturday, Feb. 27 at 8:50 p.m. at the Under St. Marks Theater (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave. and Avenue A). Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students/seniors and free for military, police and firefighters. For tickets, visit www.horsetrade.info.