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Big tales for little people

Brynley Stent in Saviour of the Dinosaur
Ivy – Saviour of the Dinosaur, on the back of successful local and international seasons, is currently touring. Renee Liang caught up with Ivy’s creator, Jennifer Martin.

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Actor, writer and science nerd Jennifer Martin has created a quirky play for kids 5 and over (and their grown-ups). Ivy – Saviour of the Dinosaur features a time-travelling cleaning lady with a passion for archaeology, and is currently on tour in collaboration with Capital E Theatre. Renee Liang caught up with Ivy’s creator, Jennifer Martin.

Actor, writer and science nerd Jennifer Martin has created a quirky play for kids 5 and over (and their grown-ups). Ivy – Saviour of the Dinosaur features a time-travelling cleaning lady with a passion for archaeology, and is currently on tour in collaboration with Capital E Theatre. Renee Liang caught up with Ivy’s creator, Jennifer Martin.

Have you always made theatre? 

In one way or another - Definitely. Since I was little I have always been a big storyteller with a love for performing, live theatre and working an audience, but it wasn’t until I got to drama school that I developed a craft and knowledge of how to create theatre.

How did you dream up Ivy?

When I was given the task to write a solo show at drama school - there were no regimented rules (other than you must perform a self made 20 minute piece). So Ivy is an amalgamation of my unchained imagination. If I look back to my original inspirations for creating Ivy it was a combination of my parents both being highly intelligent and eccentric scientists, my fascination with dinosaurs and my love for epic adventure films and coronation street.

I also really wanted to make a piece where I could just have fun, interact and create a real, one on one, relationship with the audience so that I could transport them out of the theatre into another world, but I also wanted to leave the audience feeling something and comedy is a great platform to do this - you make the audience fall in love with a character, laugh with/at them and then flip everything on its head. 

The original solo had a budget of $50 so the only way I could do that was by using my imagination and the audiences. And through that Ivy was born - a 'cleaner by day, palaeontologist by night' with one goal; to stop dinosaurs becoming extinct. She takes herself extremely seriously and has an unwavering belief in what she is doing and therefore the audience did too.

How has the piece been developed from its 20 minute solo?

The piece has taken on a life of it’s own and gone in a very different direction, the 20 minute solo piece was quite a bit crazier and darker. The main things that have stayed from the original piece is the character Ivy and her goal to stop dinosaurs from extinction. It has also been developed in the sense that I am now working with a whole creative team, so the piece now has props, a set, original music and I have also added in another 20 or so characters played by the versatile Nick Dunbar.

How did the collaboration with Capital E come about and what has been their involvement?

The collaboration with Capital E came about when their creative director Stephen Blackburn came along to my solo at Toi Whakaari - then entitled Ivylution - and saw it’s potential to evolve into a full length theatre show and adapt to a wider audience. 

They have had a huge involvement in the development of the piece. Stephen stayed with me right the way through its development and put an incredibly talented team around me including director Kerryn Palmer, actor Nick Dunbar, operator/stage manager extraordinaire Charlotte Janet Jackson, composer Gareth Farr and many more.   

I was particularly lucky to have been paired with Kerryn as my director, she constantly challenged, pushed and supported me in making the best piece we could make. So in short they have had a huge involvement. 

Are kids naturally theatrical?

From my experience - Yes I think so! They lack inhibitions and have no imaginative boundaries which makes them naturally theatrical and some of us are lucky enough to keep this all the way to adulthood. But because kids are so theatrical in a lot of ways they are a much harder audience than an adult audience because they are extremely honest and do not abide by theatre etiquette - which definitely keeps me on my game as a performer!

If they don’t like or believe something they have no hesitations about telling you in the middle of a show. But when they buy into something, it is incredible because they have an unbreakable belief - I remember in one performance a child had to be forcibly restrained by his father to prevent him coming on stage to help Ivy in a time of need. It is also very magical because if I come out after shows, a lot of the children don’t recognise me at all. 

You’re going for the 5 plus age range - why do so few plays cater for this group?

5 plus is a tricky age range to write for as it is open ended and because Ivy performs at a lot of festivals we are catering to families, therefore the piece not only has to hold the attention of children but teenager and adults as well. I think it does this successfully as the piece does not play down to children and there are a lot of underlying adult themes. 

But also I think in New Zealand children’s theatre is not as respected as it should be, which is strange considering our National Theatre company is Capital E. They put on some incredible work and Ivy is just one of these piece - if the art form was as respected as it is overseas I think there would be a lot more theatre makers catering for this group. 

Where do you hope to go with this show?

I really want to tour the show around Europe and take it to Edinburgh in 2015. After successfully touring it in Western Australia last year I think the piece has legs to go further a field. Then perhaps I’ll look at writing the screenplay and/or sequel. 

What are you working on next?

I have just finished shooting a short film called Heartbeat directed by my partner and creative collaborator Liam Bachler and we’re currently in post-production with that. Similarly to Ivy I wrote and acted in the piece - but this time, given it’s horror and frat-comedy themes it is aimed at an adult audience. Other than that I have actually just arrived in London with a goal to land a role on Coronation Street or Downton Abby- so wish me luck!   

Written by

Renee Liang

22 Sep 2014

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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