Ensemble Interview: Jennifer MacMillan

Here it is, the interview you've all been waiting for! Tonight we're rehearsing for the last time before The Improvathon, and for the occasion, we're talking with the brains behind the operation-- Bright Invention Artistic Director, Jenn MacMillan!

Langston Darby and Jenn MacMillan. Photo Credit: Sarah Bloom. 

  • As our artistic director you’re the one who thought this whole thing up. Where did the inspiration for The Improvathon come from?

Anyone that knows me at all knows that I'm sort of a "go big or go home" kind of gal. When Bright Invention was founded it was created with the idea of elevating and expanding the art form in new and challenging ways. There is already a lot of great improv out there, and I knew that I didn't want to just do more improvisation for the sake of doing more improvisation. The Improvathon is a unique challenge of endurance and creativity and a way for the members of Bright Invention to push their own personal creative limits. I'm intensely curious to see what happens creatively over the course of the 24 hours. Every improviser that I know has a bag of solid tricks and "go-to" moves that will sustain them through a show, or two or even three. I'm curious to see what happens when that arsenal is depleted. Whats on the other side of what's comfortable and known to us? There are only so many improv carrots a person can pretend to chop in a given day, so we're going to need to start digging deep at a certain point, and I think that's when things are going to become very exciting. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, talks about the theory that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a given field and I think that makes a lot of sense. By my calculations we've put in 130 rehearsal hours in our first year together so after this event we only have 9,846 more hours to put in before we're all Improv Jedi Masters! No but really, I think we're all going to come out of this experience as different people, and better improvisers and that's why I want to do this event.


  • You have years of training as an improviser— what is your biggest piece of advice to your ensemble as we take on 24 straight hours of improv?

I have two pieces of advice actually. Firstly, improvise what you know. Your personal truth is vastly more specific, grounded, and relate-able than any wacky thing you could stretch to make up. When improvised work is grounded in something honest it can really take flight. From there it's easier to get wacky and wild because you're still grounded in something that you know. And- secondly-trust your ensemble members. They'll be there for you when you feel lost in scene or at hour 18 when your brain isn't working anymore. Having each other's backs is what makes a great ensemble.


  • You know us all pretty well at this point, after a year of being together as an ensemble. Do you have any predictions as to who will need a nap, or even start losing their marbles, first?

 My guess is that I'm the one that loses my marbles first. Just kidding! But no really- probably me.Yes, me, absolutely. I was standing in line at the Whole Foods a few days ago and I sort of spaced out. When I came back to earth I realized I had been thinking about how captains are expected to go down with their ships. And the idea of that is really intense and noble and horrific. That's really what I was thinking about in line at the Whole Foods. So yes, it's me- I'm going to lose my marbles first because well...I've already lost them! What I won't need- however- is a nap. I use to pull at least one all-nighter a week when I was college (granted that was a while ago) so I feel ready. It's hard to say who of the company will crack first. I think its going to be the person you least expect. I can't wait to find out though.


  • You’re in the process of booking all of our special guest improvisers. Who are you most excited to watch play with Bright Invention?

Whoa. This is hard because I'm really excited about all the guests (I'm the one that picked them after all). I think Tina Brock is one of the most intense and hilarious people in town so I can't wait to play with her. Jack Tamburri is ridiculously smart and has great comedic chops- plus he's a director. If Philip Silverstone is half as funny and wild in person as he's been in his email correspondence with me then we're going to have a great time with him. Sharon Geller has been on freaking Saturday Night Live and Brian Anthony Wilson is the nicest and most down-to-earth celebrity who hardly needs an introduction- but um, have you seen The Wire!?. Dan Student is a personal friend, a fantastic storyteller and sort of champion of the Philadelphia art community so he's a great addition to the lineup too. Gina Leigh and Aaron Lathrop of Paper Tiger Puppets are both amazing professional puppeters who will be playing in with us on some improvised puppetry and our friends over at Real Live People In Motion are seriously badass movers and shakers. I can't pick a favorite. Our special guest lineup is FOR REAL and we may even have a few more special guests to announce right up to the minute!

Mitchell Hansen, Jenn MacMillan, and Martha Kemper. Photo Credit: Sarah Bloom.

  • What is it that you envision our ensemble and our Philadelphia friends taking away from this experience?

I hope that everyone comes away from this event feeling energized about whats possible- especially when we take some risks and ban together to make things happen. Anything is possible. Like Kid President says, "This is life, people. You've got air coming through your nose. Heartbeat. That means it's time to do something!"


For tickets and more info on The Improvathon, click here.




Interview by Bright Invention Rising Leader, Randi Alexis Hickey.