Bright Invention in SoLow Fest: Interview with the director

Ladies and gents, Bright Invention is taking on its next big challenge...SoLow Fest! SoLow Fest is a do-it-yourself festival for new and/or experimental solo work, founded by Philadelphia favorites Thomas Choinacky and Amanda Grove. Bright Invention is making its mark and taking on this year's festival as an ensemble. I know you may be asking yourself, "Self, how does an ensemble do solo work?" Well our fearless leader, Jennifer MacMillan, will tell you in this brand new interview!


Photo: Sarah R. Bloom

Ok, so first let’s get this straight. You’re directing— and helping to develop— a total of ten solo pieces that are all brand new, at the same time? What made you want to take on something like this?


  • So Ira Glass (who is awesome and someone that I look up to artistically) has this inspirational speech circulating around the internet that basically says that most artists get in to doing their artwork because they have killer taste- an aesthetic- but for a really long time the work that they're making doesn't meet their vision. It's at this point, Ira explains, that most people give up- they decide that maybe being an artist isn't for them because they aren't any good. Ira goes on to explain that its at this point that artists need to make a large volume of work, as its the only way to close the gap between an artists vision and their ability to execute that vision. The desire to challenge myself to create a large volume of work has been kicking around inside me for a while. Also, I was really compelled by the idea that the one "rule" of SoLow Festival is that its singular person work- so I'm excited to explore how an ensemble will do SoLow.


I know you’ve dipped your toes into the beginnings of the rehearsal process with some ensemble members. Any ideas, images, or concepts you’re particularly jazzed about that have come up in these first meetings?


  • I'm beyond excited for the ideas that we've generated so far. The ten pieces are very unique- as unique and diverse as the performers, of course,and part of the reason I was initially attracted to this project. Some early ideas that I'm especially excited about include live painting, an alien invasion, gay porn, original songs about sex, hula-hooping, puppets, Samuel Beckett, missed connections, death and aging, found family, gender and identity, Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies, fog machines, magic potions, phrenology, sword fighting, Ukrainian throat singing.... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's going to be a very fun, challenging, and memorable 10 days at the "Little Living Room Theater".  


Bright Invention is an improv ensemble— which by definition means that what we do isn’t scripted, and we do it together as a group. What is it about these people that’s going to make a project like this, that’s seemingly so different than what we normally do, a success?


  • In addition to this years festival theme, "The Days After Tomorrow",  I'm also creating an "improvisational element"  within each solo show, as a unifying factor across the 10 pieces. While these "improvisational elements" won't necessarily be like the long-form improvisation that Bright Invention typically creates, I do think our improv training and sensibilities will lend a dynamic sense of risk and juicy dangerousness to both the creation and the performance of the pieces. And, while I'm the person at the helm of this project, as an ensemble we have lots of willing hands and extra eyes to consult on each others pieces, share different areas of expertise, act a sound-board for ideas and cross promote each others works. Sometimes it takes 11 people to do a solo show!


You just did a one-woman show this season, Dream House: A Rainy Day Play by Jeremy Gable. Is there anything you learned from that process that you think is going to help in doing this kind of solo work?


  • Absolutely. Dream House was very demanding- physically and emotionally- and a great reminder for me about what it takes to capture and hold an audience's attention- single-handedly- for an extended period of time. Working on Dream House as well as my solo storytelling shows has taught me a lot about how to get to the heart beat of an idea, "killing my darlings" when necessary, and that the best solo work feels like a dialogue with the audience- it doesn't feel solo at all- its surprisingly inclusive. I can't wait to open up my home and share with everyone these really fun, funny, vibrant, risky and joyful solo shows!




Interview by Bright Invention Rising Leader, Randi Alexis Hickey