In the lead up to our first improv show at our new venue in Paddington, Big Forker Jim is interviewing a few of our players about improv, life and anything else that may come up.
Next up is another of our newer players, Janette McBride-Omaga, who I caught minutes after stepping off the stage at the Beetle Bar. As she sat down, Janette noticed my iPad recording app involves a kitchy representation of a tape recorder.
Jim: Hi Janette!
Janette: That’s so cute! So 1992!
The iPad version of 1992.
You’ve been improvising with us for a few months now…
Since August 2015
How many shows have you done with us?
Four shows with Big Fork.
Good memory. Let’s start with this, what got you into improv?
Well, I have been acting since I was a kid.
You’re not from Brisbane, right?
Well, I was born in Australia, but I lived in the Philippines for a while. I did speech and drama from when I was like 7 or 8. I actually left High School early to pursue an acting career, and I did some TV and movies in the Philippines before I came to Australia in 2006 – so I’ve just finished a 10 year break from acting.
Yeah. I guess if I’m honest I’ve always longed to get back into acting in some way – I really missed it. When something has been a part of you since you were a kid, it’s never really gone, you know? So I always wanted to do more acting or comedy but being away for so long I didn’t know how to get back into it.
Well my brother and I have been watching improv since we were kids. We’d never miss an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? I guess I just googled improv workshops in Brisbane out of curiosity and saw that it existed, and went, if not now, when?
That’s where we met, right? In your level one class – I was apprentice teaching with Camilla, and we actually did an activity together. I remember thinking you’d be pretty unsure about it, but you just burst into it, and I was like, alright, she knows what she’s doing.
Yes well naturally I’m very introverted, and shy. I’m a dork.
How are you dorky!?
Too many ways!
Do you mean like nerdy?
No, not a nerd, a dork – It’s hard to describe – ‘baduy’ is the word in Pilipino, but it doesn’t have a direct English analogue.
I’ll have to take your word for it. So you just did a great show, we just watched Janette do a great show here at the Beetle Bar – do you still get nervous going on stage?
Always. And not just performing! Even when I’m at the Big Fork Jams, on my way there, cause like, I travel an hour to get there…
So on my way, I used to get really sweaty palms – I used to be that nervous – I still say a prayer that I won’t mess up. I still remember something I learned in level one, something Camilla used to say – “Be a delight.”
Like just in general?
Like, to your audience and your scene partners. Be a delight.
That’s lovely, and very good advice, I think. I don’t think I’ve heard that before.
Do I always want to be a delight to the audience, my teammates, my jam mates, whoever.
You are a delight, I can confirm. So did you have that moment when you knew that improv was something you wanted to make a big part of your life?
I think it keeps getting confirmed as I go along. When I first started it was literally just like “let’s give it a shot” and it’s nice now just to get that progressive feedback that I’m doing OK. I’m my own worst critic, of course.
The improvisers curse, right? You don’t think about the ten great things you did, you just dwell on the one thing that didn’t quite pan out.
Exactly. I’m getting better at that though.
Well you did win best new improviser in Impro Mafia last year.
Tied with Róisín!
Still the best, tied doesn’t matter! The validation is the same, right?
I suppose so! (laughter)
Any advice for people who are thinking about giving improv a try?
Just do it! You never know, you might win best new improviser.
Do you have a favourite person to play with?
Cameron. He’s very versatile.
He is that.
You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always accurate and hilarious and supportive. I love when he plays an old man, because I love playing old women.
You play a good old crone.
So we just lost our beloved Visions Gallery performance space, but we’ve got our new space in Paddington which we’re very excited about.
It's sad to lose Visions, but Paddington will be great – I’m OK with not walking up all those stairs anymore!
Did you have a favourite Visions Gallery memory?
Definitely. The first time I brought my brother and my friends to the show, this was before I started playing with you guys, but it was just an amazing show. My brother couldn’t believe it – he just kept saying how funny Cameron was, and they couldn’t believe that the performers were pulling all of it from the monologues. They loved it. There was a scene Taylor did that took inspiration from the monologue in just a really tangential way, and that was an a-ha moment for him, and for me.
I think we underestimate our audience sometimes, like they’re not going to find the linkage to the monologues, or be really concerned about whether we tie everything up in a neat little bow. Making them laugh can forgive a lot. Would you say that improv has improved your life?
Oh absolutely. As I say, I’m an introvert, and love hanging out by myself. I find big crowds draining, don’t make friends super easily, all that stuff. So improv has helped me make some amazing friends who share a common interest – and the best part is I don’t feel like I have to be worried about any judgement from them.
They’re all improv weirdos too.
I still hang out with a core group of like 9 of the people I did level one with to this day. We still see each other like every week. We actually do our own improv jams at Mandy’s house.
Really? That’s awesome - I didn’t know that!
Yep. We call ourselves Big Spoon Theatre (laughter) No, we sort of call ourselves Cam’s Crew, because our level one and two teachers were Camilla and Cameron. We just hang out, play games, train up. We had a jam last weekend for Suren’s farewell.
So sad that he’s leaving. We’ll have to set him up with some improv people down in Melbourne. Well, I’ll be expecting you to run more exercises at the Big Fork jam now that I know you guys are jamming on the side!
Sure! Big Fork Jams have been great for helping build a life here too, like I think we’re pretty good friends, you and I.
And just all the cool people like Taylor, Rosa, Leanne, Cameron. Those people.
Take that Chris!
Oh and Chris, and everyone else.
Do you have any improv goals for the next few years?
Well I’d love to go to Chicago to do the iO summer intensive in the next few years.
I was so bummed you couldn’t come with me this year. You should absolutely go next year!
I’m also really interested in sketch – I took an online 8 week sketch writing course with Second City earlier this year.
I just saw you pitched a sketch for GET IT INYA.
Yep. First steps into sketch. I’d also love to be in more shows around the place.
Any shows coming up?
Well, Cool Story Bro on the 29th, and I’m going to be in a show at the Anywhere Festival with Impro Mafia called ‘Swipe Right’ which will be exciting. You cast me in (Brisbane Maestro Championship) Iron Improviser last year, which was my first Mainstage show, but this will be my first long form on the big stage.
How was Iron Improviser? You were really new for that, yeah?
Oh it was very intimidating. The description on the show was something like “join Brisbane’s best improvisers as they battle it out to be crowned the Iron Improviser” and here’s me getting a rookie spot and playing with all these veterans, national champions…
And then we gave you a solo scene!
It was rigged not to give the rookies solo scenes in the first few rounds, but as soon as that went away, the luck of the draw was not on your side. You nailed it though.
It was a great experience.
So I interviewed Mandy yesterday – and I asked her for a question that I should ask you. She asked: where would you like to see the improv scene in Brisbane in a few years’ time?
I think we just need to boost our profile – I feel like improv needs to expand its reach here – we get good crowds at Big Fork shows, but I think we could appeal to a broader demographic – a lot of people don’t even know that improv exists here, which is a crime! I’d love to see Brisbane being known as an improv hub.
That’s what we’re trying to build. With your help Janette!
Thanks for sitting down with me Janette!
Thank you Mr Reynolds.
You can catch Janette at Cool Story Bro, check out our upcoming shows for our next performance.