Loose Canons: Donna Brookbanks
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
One of this year's nominees for the New Zealand International Comedy Festival's Billy T Award, Donna Brookbanks is an actor, comedian, improviser, writer, and co-founder of improv comedy troupe Snort. In 2017 she was nominated for Best Newcomer at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival for her sold-out show, Cat Lady in Waiting.
Donna has written for and acted in TV’s Jono and Ben and Funny Girls, and appeared on Shortland Street as their resident wedding celebrant. She and frenemy, Alice Snedden, took a double-bill stand-up show, Please Stop Clapping, to Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2017. Donna studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and has also studied improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade. Donna's Billy T-nominated show You Do You Babes opens in Wellington next week and travels to Auckland for the final week of the Comedy Fest.
The Snort Gang
Whenever I get asked what inspires me/informs my work, I always say ‘all my amazing talented friends in my improv troupe Snort bleurgh bleurgh bleurgh roll eyes x 10000’ but it’s TRUE! I wouldn’t be doing stand-up without Eli Matthewson pretty much forcing me to do it, then very nicely helping me with my first-ever set, watching genius Nic Sampson's shows such as None Tree Hill and Space Race, pretending to be kooky, weird characters with Brynley Stent, doing a silly YouTube series called Tea with Tom and Don with Tom Sainsbury and creating ridiculous mimes with Hamish Parkinson (who is also directing my show and is a complete legend). Without Snort, I can say with absolute confidence I would not be where I am today. It got me working on Jono and Ben and Funny Girls. It made me believe that I could actually write an hour’s show and be kinda funny. Everyone in Snort inspires me in their own very different ways. Doing improv with them every Friday night is a bloody treat.
The Neighbourhood Playhouse School of Theatre
I started studying Meisner acting with Michael Saccente here in 2001. Comedian Josh Thomson was in my class and, I can tell you, he is still exactly the same. V v goofy and still likes to wind me up, but he loves me, I know it. I still go and work with Mike whenever I have an audition and he comes to all my shows. I always knows if he finds something funny and is in the audience cos he goes ‘HA!’ really loudly. He’s from New York and is exactly the kind of person who would say ‘Hey! I’m walking here!’. He encouraged me to go to New York to study acting for 2 years at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. This is where I met my best pal, Shoshana McCallum, who I collaborate and shoot the shit with on a regular basis. She always tells me there is nothing I can’t do and is the most supportive, loyal friend a gal could ask for. At the Playhouse I also studied with some absolute legends, including Ron Stetson, who showed me that maybe I didn’t want to be a 'serious' actor after all. Doing comedy is much more fun. I often hear my teacher’s voices in my head. Or maybe I should see a doctor…
Whenever I’m feeling at a complete loss and totally uninspired, I go back to the same YouTube clip of Victoria Wood playing a nurse who teaches aerobics during her lunch break. It’s so simple and it’s so, so funny. I’ve watched it probably a billion times. I love Victoria Wood. She wrote this show called Dinner Ladies that you can watch a lot of on YouTube and it’s really silly and fun. Another sketch I watch over and over again is called Two Soups. Victoria Wood wrote it and Julie Walters plays this ancient waitress serving two people. Victoria Wood is a hero and she got taken from us way too young and bloody hell that makes me mad. I want to be her when I grow up.
My whānau is a HUGE inspiration for me. I always want to do my best for them because they always do their best for me. Pretty much everything I do is informed by them; would they be proud of me for doing this? What would they think? My dad gave me his silliness, my mum, her quick wit, and my brother, his way with words. I am so lucky.
Boy oh boy, do I love observing. So much of my writing and comedy and acting comes from just watching people. There is nothing I love more than being in a random RSA in Paihia or a clothing shop somewhere I don’t usually go, or even just my local cafe and looking at how people behave. There is nothing judgemental about it at all – it’s just that humans are so damn fascinating. Shoshana and I wrote a play called Looking at Stuff in Clouds which is basically just an ode to small town New Zealand and I love it.
You Do You Babes plays at BATS 8-12 May and Basement Theatre 15-19 May. Tickets available here.