Interview with Jennifer MacMillan, Artistic Director of Bright Invention.

Brooke FitzgeraldInterview conducted by Bright Invention intern Brooke Fitzgerald. Orginally published in the Bright Invention Tumblr.
Well first and foremost, how are you doing lately? Any new exciting things happening in your life, that is, other than forming this ensemble? 

Hey there! Yes there is a lot of cool, new, and different stuff popping for me right now.  I’m feeling a bit like a whirling dervish but in the best way possible. Let’s see… I just finished co-authoring (alongside noted Philadelphia playwright Jackie Goldfinger) my very first play -a comedic one act for middle and high school students -called  Enter Bogart- that we’re submitting to Playscripts for a competition which asks “Are Women Funny?” (answer: Yes! Duh. ) I’ve never written a play before and to do so alongside a pro that I really admire has been a great and nerve-wracking experience. I think the final draft has a lot of heart while also managing to not take itself too seriously, and the leads are all women so I’m especially proud that we were able to create something funny and interesting for young actresses to sink their teeth into.

I also recently finished putting together a new university team-teaching course proposal alongside master Zen teacher Steve Antinoff that examines the intersection of the creative act, specifically theatrical performance, and the foundational principals of Zen and the Zen koan.

Looking forward it looks like 2014 will find me hopefully directing something scripted . I love directing, and its something that I’ve been away from for awhile (other than Bright Invention of course) and I’ve been itching to try my hand at it again. My new roommates are playwrights and puppeteers so I’m thinking 2014 will also find more performance happening in my living room. I’m hopeful that I’ll write another storytelling show this year as well,and perhaps even finally screw up the focus to create something for this year’s SoLow Festival.

Jennifer MacMilan 2) What is your earliest memory of improv that you have? Whether it be playing with an imaginary friend when you were eight or a class you took in college

I’m an only child and the product of a single parent who worked a lot while I was growing up, so imaginative play was my nearly constant companion. I’ve been improvising, I suppose, for as long as I can remember. At one point word really spread around the neighborhood and soon kids were coming over and asking me to invent games for them. The games were always wild and complicated and frequently involved space travel, fantasy characters, missions, levels of play, and the games would go on for months and in one instance several years. In college I took an improv class and was completely bitten by the bug. It was fun and freeing, and I started to see improv as a platform for connecting people, for teaching acting, and for creating social change. I’m fascinated by the impermanence of improvisation and see a lot of parallels and overlap between improv and other art forms. In a way I think improv is the common language that every creative person speaks.

Bright Invention Rehearsal3) What do you love the most about (longform) improv?

I love that improv can bring people together. I think storytelling, in all its permutations, is vital. It’s important to laugh together and experience that “me too” moment with the stranger sitting next to you. And the spontaneity of improv reminds me of getting on a crazy amusement park ride, buckling yourself in, hoping the buckle holds, wishing for a moment that you could get off, and then giving over in spite of the fear (and not because you are amazingly brave but because the whole damn thing is moving already and its just too late for cowardice). Right as the ride is about to start you can’t help but look at the person next to you and smile. Amusement park rides, foxholes, and improv bond people to each other in a profound way.

Bright Invention Rehearsal4) Do you remembered what originally inspired you to form Bright Invention? 

It wasn’t “what” inspired me to create Bright Invention so much as “who”. Ben Lloyd approached me this past summer when I was feeling particularly lost artistically. I had just ended my 7 year performance affiliation with the truly amazing longform improv company Tongue & Groove from whom I learned a TON about improv and ensemble ethos. I was transitional in my job, my teaching had ended for the semester and I just didn’t know what was next for me, artistically or otherwise. I was thinking of leaving Philadelphia when Ben reached out to me to ask if I would meet with him to discuss launching an improv company through White Pines. I just assumed that Ben wanted to pick my brain about how he should run his improv company, and so I was really surprised and very honored when Ben pitched the idea of me as Artistic Director and gave me the rare opportunity to build my vision for a company, from the ground up, with his support. I said yes right away and I’m so glad that I did. I love this company and feel strongly that what we’re building together is impactful. And I feel challenged to always bring my best self and best efforts to the company because the ensemble members are so talented and so giving, I’d never want to let them down with anything but my absolute best.

5) What are your wildest dreams for this ensemble?

Jenn directing My wildest dreams for Bright Invention involve us becoming thought leaders and practitioners for a new way of working, teaching, and supporting/interfacing with the arts.  And, honestly, and this is embarrassing but I’m gonna say it anyway, I day dream about the company landing on the cover of Time Magazine, and guest appearing on SNL. I will also confess to having day dreams of the company wearing matching track suits and slow motion walking into the improv Olympics (which we win, of course). But I also day dream about the entirety of the company being able to leave their “day jobs” and get paid to solely work at making their art, teaching, traveling with the company, and having a platform to launch their own passion projects etc. I day dream about President Obama calling us to ask us to get involved as special cultural ambassadors on peace keeping international relations projects. In my wildest dreams we would become role models for kids in the way that musicians and athletes are, and that the next generation of kids will aspire to use their art to spread messages of hope, togetherness and the importance of laughing and crying with strangers. Dream big or go home, right? ;)

6) What would you like to say to the Philadelphia Theater Community before our first performance on the 27th? Any hints as for what they should expect?

Yes! What I want to say to the Philadelphia theater community about our first performance is: COME. We need you there! Our first form is called Click, and we’ll be utilizing the audience’s interesting and meaningful photographs to inspire an hour and fifteen (or so) minutes of funny, moving, poignant and completely original improvised scenes and monologues. Bright Invention is comprised of some of the best actor/improvisers I have ever seen (no pressure guys!) and I’m really excited for our audiences to see how we grow and evolve as a company in the coming months and years. We’ll also be using music and possibly projections for this first form and then continuing to invent new ways to incorporate other art forms into our work. Click explores the connection between photography and improv, (specifically in the attempt to capture the fleeting), it examines shared experience throughout the last 100 years, and I hope, it honors in some way the person, place, moment captured in the photographs. It also brings into focus (see what I did there?) the “ah-ha” moment when things just work, the place where there is ease and flow, when things just… Click. 
Bright Invention Rehearsal