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September 24, 2016 | by  | in Theatre |
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An Interview with Jennifer O’Sullivan (Queen of Improv)

I met with Jennifer O’Sullivan, the Festival Director for the New Zealand Improv Festival (NZIF), at her office last week. The festival runs from October 4–8 at BATS Theatre and each night there will be a bunch of improv shows for a range of people. Jennifer is probably one of the coolest people I’ve met in the theatre community. She offered me tea and in exchange I offered to help fold the NZIF flyers as we chatted.


How would you describe NZIF in a couple of sentences?

Jennifer: To a general audience I would say it’s five nights of shows where you can see some of the best improvisors in the country alongside new improvisors, who are all really passionate about improv. You can see them get up on stage and do shows! If I am talking to improvisors, you just get to hang out with your tribe for a whole week—it’s really fun!

There are workshops, right? What do these NZIF workshops entail?

Jennifer: Okay, so, in other years we would showcase work and companies would pitch shows with their casts. But this time we decided to make the programme full of shows where people meet and hang out and improvise together and perform with people you don’t usually perform with, throughout that week. So for the Spontaneous Showcase, there will be six workshops for the six different shows. You sign up to be a part of these workshops and you get the chance to be cast in that show. The directors will then choose the cast at the end of the workshop. So it’s going to be interesting to see a range of people on stage having a go at something.

Are those workshops available for anyone?

Jennifer: It is recommended that you at least have an introductory level of improv. The workshops assume that you know the basics. Some assume you are a bit more experienced, and when you sign up for them they will say. I feel like actors do have a basic understanding of improv even if they don’t know it.

Could you give us a brief description of the variation throughout the festival?

Jennifer: The Spontaneous Showcase contains six shows / workshops and they each have their own subject matter. These include an improvised trial; the audience are the jury and get to vote, and at the end get to see what actually happens (Nothing But the Truth). We have a show about relationships, sex, and intimacy—but keeping it fun (In Bed). One uses objects that you have left over from relationships (The Museum Of Broken Relationships). And then we have one basically all about death (Death Who Comes To Us All). And then Kiddie Time, a late night children’s show, but we want people to come along in onesies and pyjamas and watch a kids show. The last show in that showcase is Circle of Sound Story, which will use soundscape and music. So, yeah, there is quite a range of stuff… This showcase feels kind of lifecycle-y to me. Improdome is just gonna be a great excuse to do fun, short-form work, but not necessarily all comedy.

This One Time and Grab BagGrab Bag is where everybody who wants to can put their name into the grab bag—audience members, improvisors, anyone! Then the directors will pull names out of the hat and they will be the actors.

How has the festival changed over time?

Jennifer: The first one only had six shows and four improv companies. Some of those early shows that came along toured for years and were sellouts. There are people who started teaching here and carried on teaching. I like it being a place where if you haven’t ever taught a festival workshop before, but you want to, I’m gonna give you a go.

What does it take to organise a festival like this?

Jennifer: I’ve got a decent team of people! The festival is managed by a trust and the trust is currently myself and Christine Brooks, and we have just added three people to it, who are all women. But yeah, one of our key things is delivering the festival. There’s other things we could do. I’m really interested in doing some sort of teaching conference or like a summer camp, which is really exciting.

Last question! What is the furthest someone has travelled to attend NZIF?

Jennifer: This year we have someone from Sweden!

Check out the NZIF website & Facebook page for updates!

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