Jo was born in Auckland and moved to Wellington in 1977. She studied at Wellington Girls College, and then went on to Victoria University of Wellington to major in English, Theatre and Film.
She became involved as a writer, director and performer in theatre productions for the University’s Student Drama Club. At the same time she also wrote for and performed at BATS Theatre, Wellington, and made television appearances as a stand-up comedian. After graduating, she spent a year in Australia working at an old people’s rest home and as a church youth worker before co-founding the theatre group Trouble on her return in 1995.
Trouble made several award-winning shows: The Girl Who Died, Black Monk, Mouth, The Lead Wait and Bleach (a co-production with Boilerhouse theatre, Scotland). Bleach was part of the 1998 New Zealand Fringe Festival and went to the Edinburgh Festival and the Tramway Festival of site-specific theatre in Glasgow. Jo participated in Bill Manhire's creative writing course at Victoria University in 1997 where she was awarded the Prize for Best Portfolio. That year she also received the Bruce Mason Award after her first play Fold (part of the Young and Hungry season at BATS).
Jo then founded her own theatre company, Barbarian Productions, whose award-winning shows have played in Melbourne, Prague, Edinburgh, Adelaide, Norway and Brisbane as well as around New Zealand. Jo has been involved in numerous theatre collaborations including The Sojourns of Boy with inaugural Laureate Briar Grace-Smith, and halo with Douglas Wright. In 2005 she befriended the Circus Ronaldo (Belgium) and apprenticed herself to Danny Ronaldo and Karel Creemers, learning an outsider style of clown and commedia dell’arte. Jo was then offered a position as a writer and devisor with Company Kate McIntosh of Brussels, where she lived and worked in 2006.
Her writing has twice been shortlisted for the International Institute of Modern Letters Prize and has earned her the following writing fellowships: Robert Burns Fellow (Dunedin), Winston Churchill Fellow (Russia) and the Creative New Zealand/Department of Conservation Wild Creations Residency at Cape Kidnappers. Jo’s published work includes The Knot and Through the Door, (Wedge Press), and The Spit Children and The Keys to Hell (VUP) and the short story collection Tales from the Netherworld (Steele Roberts).
Jo graduated in 2012 with a Masters in Theatre Arts (Directing) from Toi Whakaari: The NZ Drama School and Victoria University. She then created the public art ‘dress-up conversation’ Brides in collaboration with Anya Tate-Manning, a series of collaborations with the Swedish performance art duo Goldin + Senneby – M&A (Artspace, Dunedin Public Art Gallery) and Shorting the Long Position which was created for the Turkish Biennale 2013 - and an adaptation of her debut short story collection The Spit Children for a stage production at the Hetpaleis in Antwerp 2014.
Barbarian Productions has toured Yo Future, a production about the hopes and fears of the Millennial Generation, devised in collaboration with Long Cloud Youth Theatre, casting local youth performers in each of its tour locations.
She received the ONZM for services to the performing arts in 2021.
Jo lives in Wellington with her husband Thomas LaHood and sons Geronimo and Caspar.