Alex and I have created a new show: Sex, Lies & Improvisation, a dark comedy about lying together. We’re touring it this autumn but we can’t do that without a network of awesome improvisers who run great events in their improv communities. I want to celebrate those people with this blog series.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are…The Improv Community Heroes!
Hero Fact File
Name: Jess Napthine-Hodgkinson
Location of Hero-ing: Glossop
Troupe: Glossop Improv
Rachel: How did you get into improvisation?
Jess: About 13 years ago, I was working in an office and my colleague would come in every Tuesday morning raving about the improv class she had been to the night before. I was pretty shy and had never done anything like that but I was intrigued, so one Monday, I went along to Improv Xpress in Lancaster. The teacher, the much-loved David Ash, was in his late 60s but was the most vibrant, alive person I had ever met and his passion for improv made such an impact on me that I have never looked back. I took over running the group after David passed away and have been performing and teaching ever since.
Rachel: How did you start Glossop Improv?
Jess: When I moved to Glossop 16 months ago, the first thing I did was to go to the local theatre to see if I could help with their next production. From there I met lots of wonderful people including Sekki who was my partner in crime in setting up Glossop Improv. Improv was such an important factor in my gaining confidence and being comfortable with other people that I feel a duty to share it with as many people as I can. It’s also a great way to make friends.
Rachel: Tell us about the improv community in Glossop.
Jess: I love the broad age range of our community. I think some people see improv as a young person’s game but it really isn’t. The more life experience you have, the more you are bringing to the table in a scene, and with improv you are not constrained by your physical appearance. You can literally be whoever or whatever you want.
Rachel: What makes an improv community thrive?
Jess: It’s important to make improv available and affordable. That’s what Improv Xpress did and it’s what ImproQuo are doing with their free weekly jam. Regular workshops or jams are really important. If you don’t meet often you start to lose momentum and people drift off. Sekki has been amazing at engaging our local community as she has lived here much longer than me so has a really wide network of friends which have become the backbone of Glossop Improv. We meet on a Friday evening so it’s a great way for people to let go of any frustrations from the week and kick off their weekend. I like to think it’s Glossop’s cheapest night out!
Rachel: As well as running the Glossop Improv weekly drop-in, you teach at Improquo and also deliver applied improvisation sessions for postgraduate research students at University of Manchester and Liverpool John Moores University. What tips can you share about teaching?
Jess: You need to respond to the wants and needs of the community. What is their level of experience and what do they want to get out of improv? I want our community to feel like they are learning while they have fun and to see improv as a set of skills that have applications in all areas of life. It can be hard to get a consistent group together. Our numbers fluctuate so I always have a Plan B.
Rachel: What do you love about improvisation?
Jess: The sheer joy it can bring you if you give in to it. It has taken me to some fantastic places and introduced me to wonderful people. It is wonderfully freeing and the best form of mindfulness I have found – it forces you to be present and in the moment. The high you get from a scene that works well or hitting a beat perfectly or just having a moment of true connection with someone is unbeatable.
I’m really pleased to see the coverage that improvisation has been getting in the media as a skillset that is useful for more than just performing. We need to get improv into everywhere – schools, universities, businesses, community groups. Start With A Yes, run by Maggie Nolan, are doing amazing work in this area.
Rachel: What have you learned about people and life in general from being an improv community hero?
Jess: If the thing you love doesn’t exist in the place where you live, you need to create it. People want and need a place to be silly, creative, bold, outrageous, surprising and free. Oh, and if there happens to be a great pub downstairs, all the better.