Behind the Scenes with the SPARK Team

Written by Celina Burgueño


The wide brim of my hat is slipping down over my eyebrows. I push it back, reaching my other hand around to check the switch of my microphone. It’s pushed to the left: on, just like it has been the last fourteen times I repeated this routine. The audience is pouring into the space, filling the room all the way to my toes, but is oblivious to my presence, focused on the stage at the front. I take a few steps backwards, stand in the corner and calm myself, shaking out one limb at a time until the hat slips forward again. I push it back one last time and take a deep breath as the opening announcement is made and the crowd goes silent for the start of the SPARK World Tour.

Of course, to call it a “World Tour” is a bit of an exaggeration. It was one stop, 15 minutes down the road. What is not an exaggeration is how much it thrilled our SPARK Team trio. If you’re a reader of these blogs, you’ll have seen the post a few months back about what it is that our SPARK Team does for the zoo. If you haven’t, I can summarize it in this: we are a three-person team focused on guest engagement on zoo grounds. And as much as our trio loves that role, we always talk about our biggest dream: to take our work beyond the zoo gates. This was especially true for our favorite project, The Conservation League of Heroes, the SPARK team’s fifteen-minute play of antics focused on how recycling plastic saves sea turtles.

As the busy summer crowds at the Zoo were winding down with the start of school, it seemed our beloved show was heading towards a winter hiatus. Then came MacGregor Elementary School. With the support of the Zoo, the students at MacGregor held a loose change fundraiser, raising over $1500 for the Tiger Conservation Campaign in honor of their school mascot, and we wanted to congratulate that work. But how? It had to be something that could go to the students instead of bringing 550 of them to us. It had to be something that would engage children spanning in age from pre-k to fifth grade. And it had to be something that would remind them they could continue to save animals in the wild, long after their fundraiser had ended. It had to be The Conservation League of Heroes.

The long road to the tour is running on looped montage in my mind as I stand behind the crowd, ready to make my entrance: the first performance for Camp Zoofari, the trims and additions to the script, building the pop-art style “Conservation Wall of Fame”, the slips and falls every time we practice the chase scene. 20 minutes later there’s a new clip for the montage: the way it looked from the stage when every hand in the auditorium filled the air, curled into the shape of a C, as the students recited our Conservation Pledge, those last few, monumental minutes of the play:

I pledge to be a hero, take action big and small.
To help protect our planet, for once and for all.

No matter how many stops our World Tour makes, I think that moment will always be my favorite.



Search Blog & Website
Subscribe to Houston Zoo News
Get the latest stories and updates from the Zoo in your inbox! Find out how: Houston Zoo News
Houston Zoo Facebook Page