If you liked this article share it with your friends. They will thank you later.

Penny Ashton

image Penny Ashton – Supplied

“Have aA passion for what you do because it’s not an easy path. But if it’s all you can imagine doing, it’s actually not that hard when compared to a soul destroying temping job you hate.”

How would you describe what you do?

I am an actor, comedian, performance poet, improviser, designer, voice over artist, producer, publicist, celebrant, social media commentator, former ballerina and jazz hand enthusiast. Or just a little tired.

What are you working on now – or what was your most recent project?

I am currently promoting two different solo shows (Austen musical Promise and Promiscuity and Dickens musical Olive Copperbottom) touring to 8 towns AND a group improv show (Austen Found) touring to 28 towns in 2021!  I am also working on an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility possibly for the Court Theatre. No guarantees!

What project have you been involved with that is the most memorable for you?

I cannot possibly choose one. Formatively (1993-1995) the Capping Revues at UCSA which showed me I was good at being funny. Mediumly (2007 – 2015) my show Hot Pink Bits, which showed me that touring solo shows (especially about the sex industry) can be a viable way to make a living, and that Ben Crowder (my director) and I work well together because he’s so ridiculously silly. Latterly Promise and Promiscuity (2013 – present day) my solo Austen musical showed me that I was good at multi characters and was actually capable of writing a full length play which made sense and people cared about. Also how much people bloody LOVE Jane Austen. And all my international tours (2004 – 2019) which have showed me that my humour is not just specific to Godzone.

What is essential for a creative person to have in their life?

 Focus and self-discipline. Aka the ability to write/work etc… Even when you can’t be f*cked.  A passion for what you do because it’s not an easy path. But if it’s all you can imagine doing, it’s actually not that hard when compared to a soul destroying temping job you hate.

How has your time in Ōtautahi informed your work, or inspired you?

HUGELY. It’s where I grew up with parents that encouraged me, loved me and supported me. I am now 100000% aware of the privilege this is that so many people are not afforded. I am a lucky artist that way. Especially my mother who was on the Court Theatre supporters committee for nearly three decades. She took me there to see Bad Jelly the Witch when I was about five and basically I took one look at that and said that’s the life for me.  Then I was a ballet dancer from aged 5 – 16, when I had to retire from an injury… called puberty. But I was always the character comedy dance character, Jeremy Fisher Frog as opposed to a swan. Comedy comedy comedy.  Then at high school I played Theatresports and now it’s a central part of my career.  Finally it’s where I got my Drama degree, and let me tell you, that project into Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and Grotowski’s plastiques drama exercises has really informed my songs about cock puppets. But seriously I was basically never offstage from 1978 til when I left in 1996. Ōtautahi is how I am me. Though we never knew it was called that back when I was a lass. Thankfully it’s moved on too.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about creativity?

Learn how to do your own publicity.  If you make an amazing show but no one comes…. to me that’s no use. You have to do what you want, create what speaks to you, but make sure you tell people about it.

What’s the biggest misconception about the creative work that you do?

That ribald humour isn’t clever or isn’t funny. Crafting innuendo and shocking jokes that can evoke huge laughter is actually quite skilled.  Comedy is just as equal an art form as any other. A festival director once said to me; “Oh no we don’t have comedy at our festival, we’re a performing arts festival.” So I killed him.

 Which Christchurch artist or artwork do you admire?

All those street performers. Another way Christchurch has shaped me is the golden days of the World Buskers Festival. I was a lucky indoor performer who got to inhabit their world and marvel at not only their comedy chops but also their balancing a bowling ball on their nipples chops. Mulletman still has me laughing, and not just at his silly hair. Otherwise I think Michael Bell getting a grassroots theatre (Little Andromeda) up and running to provide emerging talent a place to shine is actually essential. Without the grassy roots artists can’t germinate.

What artwork or performance has taken your breath away?

Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas actually had me barely able to breathe in its Art History section. Showstoppers the Improvised Musical in Edinburgh had me leaping to my feet to applaud faster than you can say; “Can I have a song genre”. The Exonerated also in Edinburgh, had me sobbing about its story of innocents on death row, literally for days afterwards. David O’Mer’s abs, in the cabaret La Clique, made me draw breath in quite a different manner. And the finale scene in Michael Parmenter’s Jerusalem with golden clad dancers bouncing up and down on bungees as bells rang was a spectacle I will never forget.

What do you know now about creative work that you wished you’d known when you were younger?

That if you create your own work you’ll never have to worry about if you’ll be cast or not. That diversification is the key to longevity in the NZ performance scene. That all that temping work you hate is setting you up well for the admin of the arts you weren’t aware was most of the work.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Fill in your details below.