Jennifer O'Sullivan is an award-winning performer and producer in Te Whanganui-a-Tara with a long history of making things up as she goes along. The latest thing she’s made up is Locomotive, along with the other founding team members. Here are five things!
ONE: WHAT’S YOUR IMPROV JOURNEY?
I started improvising way back in 1997, in a casual workshop led by the art teacher at my intermediate. In high school I joined the Theatresports team and competed in the regional competitions run by The Improvisors, with teachers like Greg Ellis, Tim Jones, and Sully O’Sullivan leading us through the basics. At university I joined the Vic Comedy & Theatresports club and represented Vic at University Games in 2002 and 2003. After a year or so off, I rejoined improv through Wellington Improv Troupe and trained with Ryan Hartigan, Simon Smith, Clare Kerrison, Christine Brooks, Anton van Helden, Derek Flores, and more wonderful people. I briefly lived in the UK and trained with The Spontaneity Shop in London (2008-09). After returning I worked more with WIT; teaching, performing, and becoming Co-Creative Director in 2013. In the same year I founded Kickin’ Rad Productions and have since created shows like Soapathon, Awkward Threesome, Late Night Knife Fight, and more. I played with Playshop Performance Company 2013-2017 under the direction of Lori Leigh, leading several shows myself including Suddenly! A Musical. I’ve also done a lot of travel, visiting festivals as participant and invited guest; specifically Improvention in Canberra and FÉRIIR in Réunion, where I’ve been able to train with a huge number of international improvisors. And of course, the thing most improvisors know me for is leading the New Zealand Improv Festival as festival director, which I’ve run since 2013 and is now in its 11th year. That’s been a huge part of my journey - learning how to manage and run communities of practitioners, how to programme satisfying line-ups of workshops and performances, and how to create safe creative spaces.
Most of my training and experience is based on Keith Johnstone’s approach and formats; story and narrative, Theatresports, Micetro and Gorilla. I also have some training in the Harold, in Chicago-style game, long-form narrative, musical improvisation, and various other one-off classes. I find myself drawn more to free-form improv these days, where I can stop thinking about structure and just lose myself in following the fun. Though I’ll never say no to a soap opera...
TWO: HOW DID YOU GET TO LOCOMOTIVE?
I made it! Well, I drove the creation of it. I’ve brought the other brilliant humans with me because I think they are all incredible teachers who should be teaching more. I’m excited by the idea of a training company focused entirely on training, on developing improvisors, and on equipping them to be their own creators. I want Locomotive to support the work that’s already happening, and to get more people in a position to make their own. I’m also really keen for more people to have a wider perspective on their work than just what their company or group focuses on. It’s valuable to understand where what you’re making fits into the artform as a whole, so you know what your work is contributing, how it’s unique, what audience need it is responding to. And that doesn’t have to be particularly complicated - it could just be ‘we make funny stuff and it is silly and people like to laugh’ - but it helps you know where you’re going next.
THREE: WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT AT THE MOMENT?
I’m studying with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa at the moment and just completed my first kete in He Papa Tikanga, learning about the Māori worldview. It’s so important to get a better understanding of my place in Aotearoa as a Pākehā.
FOUR: WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING AT THE LOCOMOTIVE LAUNCH?
We’ve split the launch into four core areas of development, things we see as fundamental to the creation of a well-rounded improvisor. My section is Mindset; getting your head in the game, getting your attitude into the best position to make creation and learning successful. Which actually relies on being prepared for failure! It’s like the counterintuitive advice you get when you’re learning comedy - if you try too hard to be funny, you won’t be. If you’re getting in your own way, you trip up. And look, the word ‘success’ is so loaded anyway. Maybe constructive is a better word? Getting yourself into the headspace where you can really make something.
FIVE: WHAT’S THE BEST NEW THING YOU DISCOVERED THIS YEAR?
Oh man, I am way invested in The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. It’s a fantasy series, dystopian and magic, and the three books each won the Hugo award three years in a row. Fascinating main character/s, earth-shaking disasters, magic systems with oomph - I am staying up way too late each night getting through it. Don’t tell me how it ends though, I’m halfway through the second book.
That was Five Things! Join Jen at the Locomotive Launch Introductory Workshops on 30 June, and help Locomotive celebrate their opening at the party that same day. You can also catch Jen hosting Late Night Knife Fight most months, follow her on twitter @jenthinksharder, and check out her full production history at jenniferosullivan.com.