Emerging theatre companies of Wellington – PopRox - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
Nina Hogg | Issue 196

Nina Hogg

Dylan Hutton | Issue 196

Dylan Hutton

Austin Harrison | Issue 196

Austin Harrison

Tara McEntee | Issue 196

Tara McEntee

Jed Davies | Issue 196

Jed Davies

Emerging theatre companies of Wellington – PopRox by Finlay Langelaan

Wellington is a melting pot of creatives. In our new emerging theatre companies of Wellington series, we explore what makes these passionate groups tick, and why they deserve your support. Up next is PopRox, an improvisational group comprising Tara McEntee, Austin Harrison, Isaac Thomas, Jed Davies, Pippa Drakeford, Jonny Paul, Nina Hogg, and Dylan Hutton.

What does PopRox do, and why?

Dylan: We set out to do something slightly different than any other improv performance company by integrating the audience fully, but also keeping them safe and protected. We wanted them to have a great time and really feel like they are influencing the show. That has come about because of the venues we perform in as well. We’re not in your classic black box theatre. It’s more like a comedy cabaret evening than a traditional theatre show.

Nina: Well, actually having them influence the show, not just feel like it. We want the audience to know that the show wouldn’t be the same without them. Something late night, flirty, entertaining. There is no part of it that is scripted.

How do you go about getting the audience more crucially engaged than any other improv show?

Dylan: Well, there’s one key thing, and it’s that we perform in a bar, and the audience is encouraged to get drinks at any time.

Nina: That’s part of it, but it’s also about building rapport with the audience. At the start of the show, we’re not behind a curtain, we’re out talking to the audience about their day. We want to get to know them so we can perform scenes about them and with them. You come to a PopRox show and you feel like you’re constantly in on the joke. Nobody is laughing at you or excluding you.

Dylan: I like to think of it more as a shared experience than a show. The way we approach our shows is quite different as well, we don’t have a set MC, everybody contributes equally. Everyone gets their own spotlight. The ensemble is the essence of the show.

What’s the crowning glory of PopRox?

Dylan: Launching out on our own and having our own identity amongst a landscape of things that are similar. It’s an entirely new venture, we’re only one year old. We sort of spawned out of another group but wanted to separate ourselves. Forging that identity and that brand was super important. We’re always updating that as we go, but I’m proud that this is a thing we have created together.

Nina: Also making it to a whole year of monthly shows. Being able to actually sustain a company for that long where we all still like each other is quite the achievement. We’re not stale, we don’t feel like we’re doing the same thing every month, and we’re still taking full advantage of everyone’s talents and interests.

What’s next for PopRox? Will you be continuing your monthly streak?

Dylan: Yes, absolutely, we’re going to continue with the monthly shows. At the moment we perform at the lovely Atea Bar at Te Auaha. We’re looking at corporate work, different venues, wineries, and the like. It tours well. It’s a classy affair, we’re all dressed up in suits for every show. It’s just about getting bigger and better. We’re still young but there’s big things in the future.

Nina: After that I think crash and burn is the plan, a beautiful bonfire you know. That’s what most companies do eventually, but we’re not too eager. We’re not pushing ahead just yet; we’ve got at least 12 more shows in us. We’ll probably break into three different spinoff companies that are all rivals with one another.

What do the two of you do when you’re not making theatre?

Nina: That’s not a question that I can answer because I work as a producer full time, creating theatre is my hobby, and I’m a professional actress. When you’re talking about the ecology of theatre, I think the interconnectedness is because we all want to collaborate with each other. The reason I’m in so many theatre companies is that I want to work with everyone. Arguably, more people should produce different things through the same companies. It’s lots of overlapping Venn diagrams.

Dylan: Most of the time I’m also creating theatre, but I also give e-bike tours of Wellington. I take tourists on rides and give them entertaining and informative stories about our city and its history.

I can only imagine that from a professional improviser those e-tours are hilarious.

Nina: Oh, he’s excellent.

Dylan: I’ve got to tell you, finally having these skills pay off is brilliant. Tara works for the government; I’m not allowed to tell you doing what. Pippa works at Lane Street Studios, Jonny is working on cool projects in the council, Jed is studying coding… It’s quite an eclectic bunch.

Some of us have serious jobs, but we come to rehearsals, and the most fun I ever have is doing a rehearsal with all my friends at PopRox. Every rehearsal there’s a new running gag for us to crack up on for weeks.

Nina: We’re very lucky to have funny friends. Can you imagine not having funny friends? God, what a life.

Have either of you had a particular mentor on your improv journey?

Nina: One of the people I look up to the most is Jennifer O’Sullivan. She is so fantastic at building community. She runs Locomotive Improv, Late Night Knife Fight, and NZ Improv Festival. She’s a powerhouse.

Dylan: If it wasn’t for her, there wouldn’t be much of an improv scene in Wellington. She’s really spearheaded the industry. Who else are we talking about? The Whose Line Is It Anyway team, Keith Johnston, Kathleen Burns, and Aunty Donna.

Nina: Kathleen Burns is the most amazing, talented woman. She’s a court jester for the Court Theatre in Christchurch. When I was growing up doing improv, I wanted to be her, I thought she was so cool.

You described your style as being classy and flirty. Are there any other adjectives you’d like to add?

Dylan: Cabaret is the vibe we go for. When you come to the show it’s pretty loose, but there’s quite a lot of technical skills that go into it. We’re coming up with new games and new ways to do things, which we rehearse the crap out of until they’re a tight structure for us to improvise within. We want to play to our strengths.

Nina: That’s what gives it the cabaret flair, everyone has a unique talent. We’re so different and distinct in what we like and what we do, but everyone works together towards a common goal.  In terms of improv and just as a performer, so we cater games that allow them to show off their talents, and in that way, it feels more like a variety show because there’s so much more we can do within the framework of improv comedy.

Dylan: The shows all have a setlist which we rehearse vigorously. It’s quite a wanky word, but we think about it quite dramaturgically. How each scene is going to inform the one before and after, where we need a break and an audience refresher, when do we want to hear Pippa sing?

Then there’s also what you call the ‘second story’. There’s a running joke or a story between the players as well as between the characters they’re playing. We’ll find an angle for in between the scenes, so it’s a full experience. We did a show where Nina was the only non-masculine identifying person in the show, and she just got really laddie with everyone.

Nina: I felt all this masculine energy in the room and just thought ‘I can go five times this’. They were all being super respectful, and I’m there going ‘yeah, boys, boys, boys!”

Any final remarks for the article?

Dylan: I founded this company and brought everyone together mid2021 and I was super chuffed that everyone I asked to be involved was keen, and we came together and made something that we’re all proud of. It’s a nice community we’ve created and we’re becoming close friends. Isn’t that why we do it? To come together with people we like and make cool stuff? That’s exactly why we do it, so I’m happy as bloody Larry, mate.

Nina: Also, working with Tara and Pippa, who are honestly my idols for improv, is an absolute joy. Getting to work with people you’ve idolised is incredible. To have such amazing women performers who are absolute powerhouses of their craft is amazing. Myself not included.

You’re allowed to include yourself!

Dylan: Yeah, you’re a powerhouse too!

Nina: Ok but talking about the show though. Audiences can expect a classy evening of filth and mirth. We carry that energy. It’s fun, it’s slick, it’s relaxed, and it’s a little bit sexy. It’s a great way to start your night.

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« Issue 196, May 23, 2023