Updated: Apr 28, 2019
In honor of Women's History Month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Reba Sparrow as part of our discussion and exploration on the evolving topic of Feminism.
Reba Sparrow is the Executive Producer and story coach for The Mystery Box Show, a voice over artist, actor, model and holistic health coach.
Interview by Jen Scholten and Ophelia Darkly of Ghostland Haunts
J & O: We are going to start off the interview by drawing a card from a tarot deck we have that embraces a lot of feminine energy.
How very interview appropriate; intriguing!
In the picture, the girl is underground. I think the underground is really interesting, because we can think about it like planting a new seed, rebirth, and death. To have this person that looks very alive underneath the ground is interesting to me. I've always wondered too, as we seem to be building up as a society, what would happen if we built underground; below.
RS: I just toured the Shanghai Tunnels for the first time last week and it's really fascinating. It's a reminder that there are things other than what we can see, what's in front of us, that are going on. There was a whole world down there; people's lives and deaths and things that we never knew were going on.
J & O: I've been getting a similar feeling from watching this new series on Netflix called One Strange Rock. It's a show similar to Cosmos, but it's a more narcissistic version because it's primarily focused on Earth. There are different astronauts giving their insight from being able to observe the planet in ways most people will never be able to. I've always found it fascinating to look at the inner workings of the world that we live in. It makes you feel really small. And sometimes I think we need that, especially when there's so much stimulation going on in the world around us.
Let's also read the poem: Postfeminism by Brenda Shaughnessy.
RS: Some powerful imagery there.
J & O: Yes, I was reading an interview with her and I found it really interesting that she was talking about what women go through when they have to report rape and how dehumanizing it is. After something like that happens, a lot of women just want to take a shower and forget about it. And it's so hard to even get rape kits processed. Usually women don't end up reporting. I wonder if our culture created this mentality, or if it was always there and is only just now beginning to change.
RS: It's like they're saying, "Hey, claim your power, claim your power! But, we're not going to make it easy for you to claim your power! Why aren't you claiming your power? But also, we don't believe you!" We're not set up in an environment that encourages that. There seems to be a lot more talk than action. There's a lot of fear, certainly for women, but also for men. I think it's a mess; the world is a mess right now.
J & O: Do you feel that providing a platform for people to tell their stories through The Mystery Box Show is something that is helping to heal that issue, or at least, exposes it?
RS: I think that we really try to provide a platform for people to express the experiences they share on stage in a way that folks can relate to. For instance, if someone says: "I experienced healing through BDSM", someone who doesn't know anything about that topic might say, "What are you talking about? How could you heal from being beaten?" We have these preconceived notions about things and having someone tell a personal narrative helps people relate to each other. It helps create empathy and more understanding.
J & O: Do you feel like the coaching you do with performers is a necessary part of the production of the show?
RS: Yeah, it's huge. The coaching is two fold, to help the story be stage ready; to make sure that there's a beginning, a middle, an end, and stakes so that an audience will stay with you. But also, many folks walk away from the coaching session saying that it was very cathartic or that it felt like therapy. Not that we're trying to do that, but it really does help bring out the emotions of what they're actually trying to convey. I believe that in our society, we are not set up to talk about our feelings, especially women. We're told that we're being drama queens or melodramatic if we have feelings at all. With The Mystery Box Show, we first provide a safe space, one on one, and then we'll bring in a production assistant to hear the stories. It then builds to a rehearsal where five more people get to hear this story, to where people finally feel safe and comfortable enough to share it in front of 400 people.
J & O: How do you navigate dealing with such emotional topics, especially because these stories are all true?
RS: I'm very careful not to have a finished story look like therapy on stage. There's a saying: "Speak from your scars, not from your wounds", so if something is very fresh in someone's mind and they really haven't healed from it, we'll put that on hold and wait until they've done healing themselves. We never want the audience to feel like they have to take care of someone that they're watching on stage. It's a collaborative; I always have the audience's best interest in mind in addition to the storyteller's. I love featuring the stories where you go in expecting one thing from a person and by the end of their story you realize, oh, they're different than what I thought, they're just like me, I'm multifaceted too. I love the concept in performance of sharing an experience, exchanging energy live, and then that's it, you don't get to see that again.
J & O: That relates to one of my questions: Why do you choose live performance/theatre over video/podcasts?
RS: I love the energy exchange, mostly in the connection of being on stage. Maybe it's because I'm a performer and a producer; I understand what's going on backstage and on stage. I have a lot of gratitude for that. I like the audience to know that they're being seen. This is a collective; there's a conversation going on. That's why I choose to do it live.
J & O: What is it like to cultivate a sex positive community, when this is still a new concept for a lot of people? What are the rewarding parts of having this type of community in your life and how has it affected you?
RS: You know, what's interesting is that we never set out with an intention to create a sex positive community. In fact, I didn't even use that term 'sex positive' for the longest time (another label). I just want to produce the show that represents me and my partner Eric's aesthetics. I grew up in a military family, and I know that has a conservative and often negative association with it, but we were stationed in Germany, which is a very sex positive place to be. But also, on the military base, a person was a person was a person was a person and it was a melting pot of people. They all worked together and all our families hung out together. It didn't matter what your sexual orientation was or what color your skin was. And then, moving to the deep south after that where it's very racist and homophobic, I was so confused, like what universe is this? So my constitution is just people are people are people. There was no "Let's build a sex positive community", it was just "Let's build a community" and let's talk about sex while we're at it because that doesn't get talked about often. Alos, those seem to be the most interesting stories to me and Eric.
J & O: Why do you do what you do? Why this, of all things that you could be doing?
RS: I'm a performer and producer at heart; to combine that with something that I feel has a lot of meaning is important to me. And it's the normalization, the being whoever you want to be without conforming to the box that we're often put in.
J & O: What other projects are you working on right now?
Well for one, we have a side project called The Mystery Box Social Dinner Party and we tied that with "Box Social", a fund raiser from the early 1800's through the early 1900's. It usually happened at the town square and the women would make picnic lunches and put them in nondescript boxes or baskets so you wouldn't know who it was from. Then the men in the town would bid on the lunches and get to have lunch with the woman who made it. I've always thought that was the most amazing thing and I love hosting dinner parties.
The Mystery Box Social Dinner Party is open to the public and happens about a week after every show (the next one taking place on May 4th). We invite two past storytellers to dinner in our living room. We show those two stories and then we talk to the storyteller about it and their experience. It sparks really amazing conversation. People are making friends, they're hooking up, which is not the intention, but that's happening. That's been a huge part of our community building on a smaller scale. Speaking of community, at the show, all of our VIP guests are invited to the backstage after party in the green room, which we call "continuing the conversation".
Secondly, there is a podcast called Risk and some of our stories are featured on it. They tour once a year and this fall they'll be at Revolution Hall. We'll be doing our Mystery Box Show in conjunction with them.
Lastly, we've put together a book proposal to transcribe some of the stories and put them into an anthology.
J & O: Going back to the theme, what does the word feminism mean to you and how does that relate to your work?
RS: I'll tell you what I used to think feminism meant. When I was a kid I thought it meant extreme hatred for men. And I was like, "No, I'm not a feminist. We're all equals." Which for me meant having the mentality that we're all just people. And now, I think it means providing space for women to shine, and then, giving a little extra. And you know, I'm the boss of this show and my partner is male. For four of the seven years I would hear, "Oh, you're that girl who helps Eric with his show." And if people would reach out to us, they would reach out to Eric. I had to work really hard to be visible even though I was running everything. And people were like, "Oh, there's a man on stage, it's his show." And women did it too. We're not equal partners in the eyes of many people.
J & O: How do you feel the term feminism has evolved to include non-binary and trans individuals?
RS: I think there's a lot of push-back; a lot of people fight this evolution. I don't agree with that push-back. I'm not a trans person, so I can't speak to that experience, but I think that feminism is an energy and if you embody that energy, you have every right to say that you're a feminist, be a feminist, and to say that you are female.
J & O: What advice would you give to women who are struggling to create or express themselves considering the current political climate?
RS: I think it's really important to surround yourself with vibrant, amazing role models who are creating. And I think it's important to get something in motion, even if it's not perfect and even if it's not the exact message you want to convey. As women, I think we are taught that you need to be perfect, because you're comparing yourself to everyone else and people are judging you. I admire people who are doing things I'm afraid to do. If more people do that, it's not just benefiting them, it's benefiting everybody around them. For me, that's the point: to be a community and share and connect.
J & O: Do you feel like fear has ever stopped you from moving on something?
J & O: So what kept you moving with those projects then?
RS: Positive feedback from people. It's about surrounding yourself with the people who are supportive and encouraging and also knowing that if you move forward with something and it doesn't work, it's not the end of the world. So what? Do it again. Do something else. Change it. I often don't do things out of fear that I will be spread too thin and I will be exhausted; it's an energy thing for me.
J & O: When is your next show?
RS: April 20th is our Seven Year Anniversary show.
J & O: Awesome, we can't wait to go!
Connect with Reba: