It is incredibly inspiring to meet people for the first time and hear their stories. I walked away from interview with Jennifer Anne completely in awe of this talented, driven, forward talking woman. It has taken a while for this blog post to come to life, but I’m so glad it finally has.
MJ: It’s actually tricky to know what question to ask first because you’re involved with so many things! From your acting and comedy, your environmental projects, to Fetch Vintage and your installation of plant babies in at First Coat Studios. So much is happening!
I was drawn to contact you after seeing your photoshoot with Theresa Hall. I was so intrigued! After looking you up I found your Vimeo account & fell in love with “Straw by Nunny”. The hilarious frustration it builds is fantastic! You have an incredibly engaging satirical comedic style. How did your aesthetic evolve & then become a commentary on issues such recycling and waste reduction?
JA: Ever since I was little, Mum has been really environmental. As kids we never had Shapes that came in little plastic bags. Mum would buy the big box and put them in containers. I was like, “Oh Mum, that’s so uncool!” We would never have Poppers for lunch because of the straws.
“We definitely grew up with an environmental influence.”
In high school, I started environmental clubs. I was very passionate! In uni I would get up my friends if they used plastic bags and stuff like that, but I could never get people to change. I kept saying, “You don’t need that.” “You don’t need this.” I could never convince people to change, ever.
At the end of uni I started living waste free. Basically I don’t use any plastic accept for some things. I don’t buy any food products that are in plastic. I don’t have a plastic toothbrush, we make our own toothpaste, all different kinds of things. We buy our toilet paper from a company that only wraps it in paper. We try to really avoid it.
Even then, when I was living in a share house I thought because I was bringing change with me, people would be like, “That’s so cool.” and want to contribute. But still no one did.
My Mum runs a Facebook page called No Waste, No Worries. She knows nothing about social media but she’s gained 3000 followers. We all work towards that but she’s gained that by sharing her ideas. She says as well, “But not this many are changing.”
At Uni I started my graduate program called “Art for Earthlings“, which is a company that teaches people about the environment through clown. Still I found I was creating these videos, and because I’m so passionate, my partner would say I had to level it out. I was still trying to push the facts, so I needed to find a way to talk about it that wasn’t preaching, that still entertained people.
I want people to watch my stuff and be excited and inspired to change, rather than be like, “Ugh!” There are so many negative connotations around being green.
MJ: How did you go about expressing this?
JA: At Gaulier [Ecole Philipe Gaulier] I discovered a style within myself which came from not giving a shit about how I performed. I became very weird. I feel like the inner me was released. It was a humour that worked, a humour that was different to everyone else’s humour. I thought, well, I’ve found this unique style that is different, that people like. At school we had people from all different cultures, and everyone liked it! It’s a big thing to be able to get across to people who don’t speak English. I used that to tie in the environmental stuff, and my first ever time doing that was with “Straw.” That was my first time merging my new stuff with my old stuff, and I found a way to create a satire. When you watch “Straw”, well I don’t know what you thought…
MJ: My first thought was that this is a very subtle way, a very funny way to translate this message.
JA: Basically, the message is how ridiculous it is that we can’t change a very simple thing about our lifestyles. We could easily give it up but we’re not going to. I find that if I go to the extreme, like with “Straw” then some people understand the satire and others may miss the whole point.
Since “Straw” I’ve written 6 other new films, which I need to find time to produce. All of them are this idea of satire to the extreme. Some are nonsensical, but I’m making all of these really weird things hoping to spark something in people’s minds.
MJ: I think it’s fantastic that you go to that extreme, and use humour to communicate such a simple point.
JA: But there is also the opposite spectrum. You will watch a video of a turtle having a straw pulled out of its nose which will make you cry, and be sad. There are two extreme versions, both have an impact. A lot of people aren’t going to press play on that video though, because they know it’s going to be something bad. People love comedy, so that’s why I’ve chosen this route. I was getting really depressed and frustrated by the world too. Normally when I get really angry by something now, I go home and I write. I wrote “Straw” after getting really angry.
MJ: Can you tell me more about your decision to go to France?
JA: So I graduated in 2015 (USQ – Bachelor of Creative Arts majoring in Theatre) and I had known about this school in France for a while (Ecole Phillipe Gaulier). I always knew it would be a really great school, and I’ve always had a love for clown. I was quite shy, but clown… the idea of it is to forget everything and just do. I’ve done that a couple of times, and found it was something I excelled in because it was such a relief for me to do that.
I applied for the scholarship in my third year. It’s called the Bellmaine French Appreciation Scholarship which USQ offer every year. Anyone can go, you just have to apply and explain what you want to do with your $20,000.00 in France. You have to detail where you would go, what you would do. I wrote that I would use it to enhance “Art for Earthlings”, because “Art for Earthlings” was this idea I had that people from the outside community had responded to saying that they wanted it to run as a program in schools. So I wrote about that.
Nick and I were the finalists together, my partner. We were the last two, and I got it. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to go, as it is a really expensive school. It was this dream! I left in the October the following year when I graduated. October 2016. I remember flying into France, seeing the Eiffel Tower and crying, thinking “What have I done?!”. Nick was like, “This is amazing!” but it really shocked me.
The school was really hard! This 75 year old French man would rip you to apart. Saying, “You are the most fucking horrible thing I’ve seen in all my life! You look like a little rabbit shat on a plastic bag!” He would tell your friends in the audience to say whether you were shit or not.
“You had to stop caring basically about what people thought about you in order to succeed.”
One day I just thought, fuck it. I’ll do whatever I want to do. It worked. Gaulier gave me a reference, and we still email now. We’re good friends [laughs].
MJ: I loved your poster for your recent stage play “Lucy & Me”, Gaulier’s quote “Not horrible.”
JA: I remember when he first said that to me, I was nearly crying. That’s the highest praise you’ll get.
MJ: You wrote “Lucy & Me” with Nick while you were in France. Can you tell me more about that process?
JA: It was really interesting. Nick had a really tragic week with stuff that happened at home. It was probably one of the worst weeks of his life. It was so crazy.
Now we had to do a show every Friday at Gaulier. You have to create something every single Friday. But you might work all week, maybe get 30 seconds in and he’ll bang you down and won’t give you a second chance. So this thing you’ve created will just get thrown out. We were doing character lessons, so you have you come in dressed up, not looking like yourself for a whole four weeks. It’s so good. That’s where the character is Straw came from, and that’s where Lucy came from, this character of Nick’s.
So Nick wasn’t going to do anything that week, but he said, “Oh well, I’ve got this idea…” Gaulier had said he should be a man who loves bikes, but not literally bring a bike in. So I wrote this show with him that went for two minutes. Gaulier saw it, everyone was loving it, and Philipe said, “Not horrible… but it is in a cabaret.” Philipe doesn’t like cabarets. Everyone loved it and laughed, so he said, “Who likes this shit?” Just jokingly. I piped up, “I do!” and Philipe said, “That’s because you’re his fucker.” So blunt but so funny!
Nick had had such a tragic week, but I’ve never seen him have that much joy on his face in my life. We then turned it into a 10 minute show and took it down to Sydney.
MJ: You won two awards down there too, at Short & Sweet Sydney!
JA: Yes, we’re going back down for the finals soon. Gaulier definitely changed us as performers.
MJ: That’s fantastic! Your six other ideas, will they become shows or films like “Straw”?
JA: Films! I’m going start on Instagram and eventually have a website so that teachers or schools can use them. We bring the environment, science, arts all together in one thing. It was about finding the confidence to do it, but after Straw I know it works. That’s the kind of style I’ve always wanted to do. An adult can watch it, and a four year old can watch it. I think everyone needs these messages, no matter what age.
I have also just submitted a play for a Brisbane festival. Yesterday it was due, so I wrote a play in a day, as you do. It’s about Nunny, that character [from Straw], and the play is about “Nunny Loves Plastic”, though I think I want a more subtle title…
[Jen actually gave a full insider scoop on this future play but I’m going to keep that on the shhh.]
JA: I’ve always wanted to write a one women play, so I wrote one in a day which was king of random.
MJ: Speaking of videos, you have also been involved in a music video for Brisbane band Columbus! How was that to shoot? It looks like things got pretty messy!
JA: Oh did you see it? It’s crazy! I also submitted something for a music video in the Netherlands recently too. I’m doing all sorts of things!
MJ: I love how varied your creative pursuits are! Can you tell me more about Fetch Vintage? How did your business get started?
JA: I’ve always loved vintage clothing. When we were younger, Mum would pull things out for us and we’d be like, “That’s not cool!” But then vintage came into fashion, and everything she picked out was in fashion… So I was like, “You’re alright.” My sister and I, we’re from Cairns which still had a small town feel. You used to wear overalls and people would be like, “What?!” I then moved to Toowoomba and studied an arts degree so I kind of let loose. I started getting cool stuff, but then sold most of it to move overseas. Then in France I was like, “Faaassshhhiiionnn” No one dressed the same.
I went to school with people from Taiwan, Japan, America, Europe, Israel… we all dressed completely differently. On Friday’s at Gaulier for our show, we were always encouraged to dress up. There’s no point not looking beautiful, but not in a materialistic sense. He [Philipe] said, “You feel better when you feel beautiful so why not.” Girls would rock up in vintage ballgowns with wigs and their makeup done. You might get kicked off stage but I loved it.
I started collecting vintage clothing in France. There are some amazing flea markets! I brought three suitcases back of clothes I had collected from all around Europe and started Fetch Vintage with my sister. We sold out of all my stuff when I got back, so now we’re sourcing stuff constantly. I’m a big believer in sustainable fashion, so I don’t buy anything new anymore.It’s such a huge movement. Whenever I do markets people are really into it. It’s great to people aren’t sobbing away from it.
I’m a minimalist now as well, which sounds weird because I have hundred of pieces of clothing, but my personal wardrobe is really small. I never used to have a small wardrobe, so it’s made me appreciate my select few things as well. It’s amazing that you can promote fashion and sustainability together, just as I can combine comedy with the same message.
As a complete side note, you raise plant babies to be involved in curated exhibitions! First Coat Studios in Toowoomba has held Again & Again curated by Laurie Oxenford. How did that come about?
[Laughs] Well I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I would sell my mother’s veggies on the side of the road, even if we were only selling five tomatoes, 2 cucumbers and five pumpkins. I would always make my sister and brother do it. Then I had a Henna business, so I also do that. Then I made Dream Catchers… so I’ve always had these little things. Oh and I’m also a face painter. Using any creative form to make an income.
From Fetch, Laurie contacted me, because I’ve always collected vintage kitchenware. I planted all sorts of plants in them, and that was that!
I’m also curating an art exhibition in Brisbane, so I do all sorts of different things.
MJ: So what’s the rest of 2018 looking like?
JA: Well it was poverty! [Laughs]
“When I got back from France I felt like I hit rock bottom.”
It was a huge experience, I have friends who I adore that I will never see in the one place again because they all live in different countries. I dropped everything I knew for a year, and I can’t talk about it all the time either… so that was really hard to recover from. I felt really lost and haven’t really been in the acting industry yet because I saved for France, went, came back so I have no networks in Brisbane.
I kind of woke up to myself, so I did the film. I wrote the play. I definitely push Nick to do things. I’ve landed a gig at Splendour In The Grass as a performer, so three days at Splendour performing! I’ve got a video gig down in Sydney, the Commonwealth Games, a health video… all sorts of things!
I was so caught up in not having a job at the start of the year, doing nothing at the start of the day and worried about not making money. But I realised we are artists, we have skills so why aren’t we using our art to make money? It’s the ultimatum of being happier, progressing in your career. I feel like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. 2018 is the year I have to commit and see how much I can get done and how much I can push myself. I will start Art for Earthlings this year. Yay I’ve got proof! It will be started. It’s a really unique project.
All photography by Morgan Smith in collaboration with Jennifer Anne for the Morgan Journal.