This month I chatted to over 30 female improvisers from all over the UK to celebrate the talent that we have – we also discuss some of the important debates surrounding this topic as well. Today I talk to an improviser that is part of Stealing The Show and The Cambridge Impronauts – Catherine Hodges
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
Hello! I’m Catherine, a Cambridge-based improviser. Three random facts about me:
-I am very good at hula hooping and used to run classes at uni
-I’m working on a musical about the life of Dmitri Mendeleev, founder of our modern periodic table
-I can beatbox
How did you get into improv? What inspired you to start ?
My brother (David Hodges) and friend (Ryan Murphy, currently of Acaprov and Bumper Blyton) took me along to a Hoopla show where there was an improvised opera about devil worship in 1990s Coventry. As I sat watching, I thought that I would very much like to do this, so I joined Shellshock! the Durham University improv society as soon as I got back to uni and I haven’t stopped improvising since!
What troupes are you are a part of?
My main groups are Stealing the Show, the improvised heist movie, and The Cambridge Impronauts who do a mix of short and long form including Attack of the 50ft Improvisers! which I directed. I’m also involved in a new musical group that’s starting up and a few other groups, so watch this space!
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why
I love a longform narrative, where we get to see characters reappear and form connection with them, whilst also carrying crazy high energy plotlines. And you can’t beat a good musical!
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
Pippa Evans, Ruth Bratt, Monica Gaga, Lauren Shearing and Maria Peters are all amazing – their shows are high energy and full of positivity and when they host it’s an awesome welcoming environment.
I have read many articles around the debate that it is harder to be a woman in improv – what are your thoughts on this and why?
I’m not too sure, I guess it can be harder. I’ve had to fend off unwanted advances at improv events and sometimes have battled with feeling like I have to prove myself – for example, an improviser friend once told me he didn’t find women funny (although he did seem to change his mind a bit once I pointed out the likes of the people in the previous question!) But I know plenty of men who struggle with the internal ‘am I actually funny?’ feeling just like me, and in general the improv fundamentals of accepting offers and supporting each other breeds lovely human beings and a welcoming environment. The people I regularly perform with are WONDERFUL.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
“There are three shows – the one the audience experiences, the one the rest of your team experiences and the one you experience. You can never really know what the other two shows are like, so you shouldn’t ever beat yourself up too much or get too cocky” – told to me by Rachel Thorn (but originally from Justin of showstoppers I believe she said). This advice helped me when I was going through a very stressful time and felt like I had messed up a few shows. Everyone I knew from the audience said they loved them, but I couldn’t stop being down on myself, but this advice helped pull me back and put things into perspective.
Do you find that being a female in an improv show that the suggestions you can get are traditional and stereotypical? How do you feel when you get given these?
My main group does improvised heist movies, getting suggestions of things to steal and special skills to use to steal them, so I don’t tend to get stereotypical female suggestions (if anything the genre should lend itself to the opposite, and get a chance to represent women in classically non-female roles). Also the men in our group know me well by now – my strengths and weaknesses, what kind of characters I prefer to play – so if I get bestowed with a character, it tends to be one I enjoy.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
There was one show where a drunk woman was basically stage whispering to her friend every time I went on stage: “I LOVE this girl, who is she??” and “She’s just so funny!!” which was a great ego boost. Also a show I recently did where I was playing two competing characters in a ballroom dancing scene of four characters, that was fun!
What have been some of the worst and why?
At university, we were booked for a beer festival – they put us in a room with no beer in, so that was painful trying to get anyone to watch!
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Don’t worry about looking stupid or being funny – no one is judging you (they’ll be too focused on judging themselves and their own performances usually!) Let loose and enjoy!
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
We’ve got a new musical group starting up, so I really want to start honing those skills. Also, doing more hosting of both shows and workshops would be great. And third, I want to put my performance skills into practise more in other settings, like my work life (as a science editor, going to conferences etc.)
What is the future of improv?.
Hopefully a huge, diverse community of people having fun and supporting each other. It’s been really cool seeing the scene grow and diversify over the last few years – the future is looking awesome!