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 an Applied Improvisation Consultant, an improv coach and part of Duck Duck Goose – Victoria Hogg
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
Victoria Hogg. I can see the sea from my living room. I love dogs that look like Teddy bears. I have stipulated in my will that my ashes be turned into playable vinyl: please suggest tracks for inclusion.
How did you get into improv?
I got into improv after trying sketch and stand-up. I found improv (impro) the most rewarding of the three. I took a beginner’s course with Spontaneity Shop in October 2011 and never stopped. Now it’s my career.
What troupes are you are a part of?
I’ll always be part of DDG’s house team, I hope. I’m also in a duo. I’ve just moved to the seaside so we’ll see what’s next!
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why
I love genre narrative work like Austentatious and I love the Bareback Kings’ dragprov take on the Pretty Flower. Patrol are a phenomenal London team, too, who take Chicago-style game to the next level. Do The Right Scene are super-daring and funny. I recently was lucky to be in NYC at the UCB Theatre in Hell’s Kitchen and saw Scott Adsit and John Lutz (both in 30 Rock) two-prov together. It was breathtakingly funny and emotional. Nothing was wasted, nothing was missed. Everything mattered.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
I’m lucky to be surrounded by a vast swathe of feminists and good people in my improv corner. But I do think that the highly collaborative, deep listening, ‘we love the biggest loser’ elements of improv can sometimes be at odds with how the (often) male psyche reacts to the cocktail of stress hormones that are released when a player hits the stage. I’m not a doctor.
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 had a bizarre 25 minutes at a nightmare jam during this recent trip I made to New York. Seven people in the room in total (ie. no audience); only one other woman. I was a total stranger to them and within three minutes all but one of these players had lost it over my unusual presence. The (only other) woman was playing it too cool to join me in scenes; I was endowed as being a Mum, a housewife and a chimney sweep; the ‘Queen of England’ made an appearance; there was ten whole minutes of Shakespeare-related stuff – it was bananas: like a chapter out of the Even Middle-Aged, Middle-Class White Women Can Feel Uncomfortable Sometimes Handbook.
It felt to me like a pretty unsafe space and if I was any less experienced, it would probably have been game over for me, improv-wise. But safe space is hard to create and maintain and it takes years of active praxis and reflection. So I guess I’m saying that yes, on stage, we women have to deal with surprising mirrors and echoes of society’s patriarchal power structures. It’s inevitable when you’re making theatre / comedy without a script. It’s up to our community to all arm ourselves with awareness and always try to lift each other up.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Best advice about improv? You never ever have to stay on stage. If you’re not enjoying yourself in your scene, call it out in character, call it out in person or simply walk off. Patti Styles and Pippa Evans taught me that. People be people and inexperienced players can make poor or boring choices but even if you’re new to this form, feel free to put yourself in the driving seat.
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?
I get called ‘Mum’ a fair bit in scenes. That’s okay: I am a mum. But it’s annoying when I’m clearly playing, say, ‘Dad’. And ‘Mum’ is simply a signifier – it’s not a character. Maybe I’m the Mum who has to finish the bank heist early because she’s gotta pick up her kids from nursery. I think what I’ve learned is that rather than simply ‘empowering’ ourselves to play men, let’s empower ourselves to play powerful, complex women. By which I mean, yes, please do be a brain surgeon, but maybe enjoy being a female one. Recently, in a Maestro I played at the GII conference, I was put in the position of ‘the wife’ by two other male players in the scene. I quickly endowed myself as also being a company CEO. Give yourself permission to be all the things. The full rainbow.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
My favourite moment on stage was when my Gorilla Panic partner and DDG teamster SteffMan was a sloth in a zoo and committed fully to talking at length about – then actually falling off – a very high stool onto a wooden stage. It was a full body slam. It was spectacular; like watching a balloon being blown up and waiting for the inevitable *BANG!*. My other fave moment was a love scene with Francesca Reid. I played the scene in French and she played it in Spanish and at the end I leapt into her arms. That was fun.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Please carry on! You are genuinely interesting to me. Let’s play.
What is the future of improv?
The future of improv is bright but it helps when everyone understands the vertical learning journey of unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, then – nirvana – unconscious competence. I think people can drop out of the scene as and when they, inevitably, sit for a while in conscious incompetence, which can be pretty challenging and unfun.
The thing about improv is that you can’t fully learn the craft until you’re actually on stage in front of an audience. You have to learn by doing in front of others. Otherwise you’re the footballer who never leaves the bench. It’s a relatively nascent, widely undervalued, often unpaid performance form that has just one agreed-upon tenet: “Yes, And”. All the rest is up for grabs! That’s what makes it exciting and unexpected.
Improv is like the Wild West right here in Britain, even after our long-established teachings of Keith Johnstone – whereas in the States, where they’ve had firmer improv scaffolding in place for longer, since Viola Spolin began the work, it’s more ‘regulated’. Personally, I adore the UK scene and its magical, chaotic diversity.