Hal Sparks, Londoners perform live-action ad


The lights were turned down Friday in the Stephen Foster Memorial building, and the director… The lights were turned down Friday in the Stephen Foster Memorial building, and the director had just informed the audience that they should turn off all their cell phones, pagers and messaging machines.

As soon as she was done, there was a loud ring from the first row, and an older woman rummaged through her bag to find her phone. She picked it up and began to have a conversation with her daughter about London.

“Seeing how we like going out on the Strip District, you’ll love going out in Soho,” the daughter, whom the audience could also hear, said. But out of the audience rose Hal Sparks, an actor from “Queer as Folk,” to tell the woman to be quiet.

“Ma Belle. We got a show that’s going to happen,” Sparks said. “Tell your daughter everyone here says hello.”

No one really cared about the interruption, because it was all part of a theatrical advertisement that is part and parcel of an advertising campaign for Visit London. The advertisement is performed by actors onstage right before the actual play.

The group performed the commercial before productions in different cities to help bring people to England.

They also recruit the help of a celebrity with ties to the city to perform the cameo role performed in Pittsburgh by Sparks. “Queer as Folk” was set in Pittsburgh, but all of the filming was done in Toronto.

The commercial compared places in Pittsburgh to similar areas in London. Some comparisons included how shopping in Shadyside would be similar to shopping on Oxford Street in London.

The commercial was performed before the play “The Pillowman” at the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater in the lower level of the Foster building.

Sparks was wary when he first found out about the idea, but as soon as he realized it was to help promote travel to London, he was on board.

“London is one of my favorite cities in the world,” Sparks said. “You can get there pretty quickly and pretty cheaply,” he added, comparing the trip to visiting the west coast from the eastern seaboard.

As for why they chose Sparks, he proudly called himself “the rented American” and said he enjoyed working with the actors, all from England.

“They are far superior to American actors, you can tell by their accents,” Sparks said.

Martine Ainsworth-Wells, the marketing director for Visit London, said that the commercial was a way to creatively market the city and do it with theater — something London is famous for.

The tour visited cities in Europe as well as New York City before finishing up in Pittsburgh.

Ainsworth-Wells said she was only able to spend a few days in Pittsburgh, but she was impressed by her visit. She also said that Pittsburgh and London have a lot in common, such as a special art district and the omnipresence of bridges.

“It’s a fun, small, friendly city with a big attitude,” Ainsworth-Wells said. “I think people in Pittsburgh would like London, because I like Pittsburgh.”