Welcome to this years Phoenix Remix Awards – every year as Editor I like to celebrate the talent that I have witnessed on stage and give that particular group extra promotion to introduce new audience members to them as well as also celebrate their talents. For this years awards, I decided to open it up to the public as well to vote for who they think deserves to win in three different categories including The People’s Choice Improviser of The Year Award.
In total 1,386 people voted and they chose Sally Hodgliss For Improviser of the Year. I spoke to Sally to find out how she feels to win such an award!
Hello Sally tell us all about who you all are and three unknown facts about yourself?
Hiya! I’m Sally Hodgkiss; I’m an actor, writer and improviser living in London, although I’m a very proud Northerner!
Blimey 3 unknown facts… ok:
1) When I was 8 I got cast in a fashion show at school, but the organisers must have regretted their choice, because they just put a white sheet over my head and made me pretend to be a ghost at the back of the stage, while the other kids modelled to the ‘Ghostbusters’ theme music. Needless to say that was the end of my modelling career.
2) I am terrified of living statues. I can’t even write about them they freak me out too much! I mean, WHY?!
3) Up until the age of about 10 I genuinely thought I had telekinetic powers. However they seemed only to truly present themselves when I was with my parents, more specifically when we were watching a video. I’d say, “Look I can stop it with my mind,” and it would stop. Obviously the absolute swines had a remote hidden beneath a blanket but they kept up the lie for years so all those hours I spent squinting at pencils in my bedroom trying to make them move were for nothing! Other lies they told me included that my mum had built a rocket for me but it was still in her office so I could never see it, there was a yeti called the Snowbeast (inspired by the 1970s film) but if I talked about it I would be eternally cursed, and if I put a penny in my mouth my tongue would drop off. Absolute classic 1980s parenting.
You have been awarded the Phoenix Remix ‘Peoples Choice Improviser of The Year’ award – how does this feel?
Absolutely incredible! I was completely blown away just to be nominated, never mind winning it. So thank you so much!! It was also wonderful to be part of a list of people whose work I really admire.
How has your year been in improv? What have been some of the highlights?
This year has been totally bonkers in a very surprising and brilliant way. Basically I’ve ended up doing some shows that were childhood dreams of mine, and have been given some wild opportunities, for which I am properly grateful. Aside from performing with my regular teams (which I love!) I got to do Glastonbury Festival with Stephen Frost Improv Allstars, which was a hell of an experience, particularly as I’d never been to the festival before. I walked round wide-eyed and mesmerised the whole time, drank too much beer and accidentally slept on a rock. Oh and I saw some music. And Richard Vranch’s bum. What a weekend!
I then guested with the Comedy Store Players, which was a bit terrifying to be completely honest, I just never imagined I would get to do it! But they were SO supportive and I had a brilliant time performing with them. They are just experts at what they do, utterly effortless hilarity. That was a really special experience for me. I’ve just been asked to go back in the new year and I’m absolutely over the moon!
Then the other biggie was getting to perform in Whose Line is it Anyway? at Edinburgh. Again never in my life did I think I would get to be in a show I grew up watching on TV but it was such a delight in every way. Bloody hell reading that back it all sounds nuts and it makes me realise again how lucky I’ve been. I owe a lot of this to Steve Steen and Stephen Frost because without meeting them in the Actor’s Nightmare I might never have got to do any of it!
What have been some of your favourite moments performing on stage with such comedy legends?
Really just getting to perform with them in the first place! This might sound obvious but man they are just so extraordinarily talented. I feel like I’ve learned so much from watching them and being on stage with them, their ease and confidence, their playfulness and generosity. And actually that’s the other thing I took away from it – just how kind and supportive they all were. For example with Whose Line I had worked with some people before (which was reassuring I have to say!) but I’d never worked with Greg Proops, Tony Slattery or Mike McShane so was nervous to meet them. But they were all absolutely delightful and instantly treated me as one of the team, which made me feel at ease straight away.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage this year?
Bloody hell this is hard! I did a Criminal in Edinburgh where I was the detective and Mike McShane was playing this gangster mini-pig (standard), and just as he was about to give me some covert information he was shot in the neck with a poison dart. Narratively it was SUCH a brilliant move (devastating for me irl coz I actually had no idea who the murderer was!) and the physicality of it was so good, you kind of forgot that it wasn’t real. It was very cool to watch.
Also any moment when I’ve been on stage with someone naughty. As in, when certain people get that twinkle in their eye you know they’re going to do something mischievous, ooh I do love that. Tony Slattery is a real culprit and he and I really lost it several times during Whose Line – ah that man! I love him.
Also (I will shut up in a minute) the Actor’s Nightmare has been a real joy this year. I love that show because we improvise a play with no necessity to be funny (although it often is), and as an actor there’s nothing more satisfying than emotionally connecting on stage. The company are amazing, regular cast include Steve Steen and Stephen Frost (whose concept it was), Ruth Bratt, Lee Simpson and Niall Ashdown and we have tonnes of amazing guest artists who are all terrific.
You are part of many improv troupes as well – tell us a bit about them all?
I am! So of course there’s the Actor’s Nightmare (see last question!)
The Committee, who are some of the funniest people I know. The cast is made up of actors, writers and sketch performers so I pretty much always leave rehearsal with a headache because they make me laugh so much. We often do fast paced improvised sketches but are experimenting with a new format so watch this space!
Bumper Blyton, again a company of very funny and very lovely people. It’s an improvised Enid Blyton novel so is a really joyful show with a cast of multitalented performers. I had to exit the stage in one show at Edinburgh because I corspsed so badly. I’m clearly a professional!
This year I joined the cast of Shaken Not Stirred, which is an improvised James Bond show. I was a bit nervous about this one because I wouldn’t say I’m an aficionado of the spy genre (!) but the boys have been doing the show for years and are total experts, as well as being extremely witty and delightful humans, so actually it’s been a blast and I’ve felt very welcome.
I also guest in other shows like Stephen Frost Improv Allstars, GTI and Criminal, which are all terrific fun to do.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
Ugh I don’t even know where to start! Ok I am not going to specifically name anyone I’m currently working with as they are ALL freaking amazing for a million different reasons so I couldn’t possibly choose! I am constantly surprised and delighted and in awe of all of them, and that spurs me on to be a better performer.
One person who has had a huge impact on my improv career is Chris Mead. He is such a thoughtful and kind man and performer; he was my first coach here and then we became great pals. We set up an improv theatre company together along with Emily Murphy who too is a terrific improviser and person, and despite me not performing with them for ages due to work commitments; they both hold a big space in my heart. There are just SO many people I could write about here! Sophia Broido and Katherine Bennett-Fox are just magic, Maria Peters and Lauren Shearing exude joy, Justin Brett is a phenomenal actor, David Reed is incredibly smart (and has a very lovely dog)… in fact I’m going to quit while I’m ahead because I’ll be here for 5 days writing sonnets to all the great improvisers we have in the UK. We are very spoiled that’s for sure.
Further afield, one of the best shows I ever saw was DUMMY in the US (Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts) because their characterisation was so rich and nuanced and beautiful. I love Holly Laurent who is another American improviser because she is such a generous heart felt player. I also got to see Amy Poehler perform in New York once, which was an absolute dream come true!
But it’s not just these long established players, I also find my students really inspiring. I remember how terrifying it was getting on stage for the first time (and to be fair for many months after!) so I love watching them grown in confidence and push themselves to try something that scares them.
What have been some of the best suggestions you have been given by audience this year?
Blimey there have been SO many! With the Committee we really vary our suggestions, and one of my favourites we did was ask the audience to volunteer the story of their first kiss. I always like hearing about people’s lives and I’m a proper romantic, and people are often really keen to share special moments like that. My first kiss was outside Bolton YMCA and I was half way through eating a crunchie bar, which wasn’t exactly love’s young dream, so I’m clearly living vicariously through other people!
What is the best piece of advice you would give any impviser, experienced or new?
Listen and connect. I know that’s obvious but it makes the world of difference. Whenever I feel like I’m a bit lost in a scene I always ask myself if I’m properly listening to my scene partner and make sure to look them in the eye. The answer is always there! It’s much easier to just recognise what’s really happening in a moment rather than endlessly creating new content. People are fundamentally fascinating – even in the tiniest of moments.
How did you all get into improv?
My improv origins are I suppose typical in rather atypical circumstances (!) In my final year at uni I joined the improv troupe there, but I had just had a nervous breakdown and was quite unwell. (What a time to start improvising..!) As with a lot of things from my early 20s I have fairly hazy memories of it as I was on high medication, but what I do recall was they were really friendly, funny people. I then joined ComedySportz in Manchester who I played with for a couple of years before moving to London to go to drama school. Then I didn’t improvise for years (and was bloody miserable living in London!) but a friend of mine (Mark Rawle) moved down here and said he was auditioning for an improv team and I should too. I did, we both got on, and that team became The Science of Living Things, and so began my love affair with improv in London.
What are your three favourite things about doing improv?
1) Maybe my favourite thing of all is the improv community. I lived in London for 4 or 5 years before I started improvising here and I felt lonely and lost, but then I discovered this wonderful world of smart, creative and fascinating people.
While I was in The Science of Living Things I found that nerdiness and eccentricity were celebrated rather than vilified and they properly helped me accept and like myself as I was.
2) I love that improv allows me to play! I am pretty playful and ridiculous most of the time (I must be a pain in the arse to live with) and there’s nothing much more joyful than sharing moments of delight and surprise with others who relish play.
3) The endless possibility of it all. You get to be anyone, go anywhere, create any world that you want. It exists only for a moment and that is really exciting, but the memory of it can last forever.
You teach improv as well? What are some of your favourite lessons to teach?
I do teach, and I love it! I teach most regularly for Hoopla but have also done workshops for the Nursery and I coach/direct privately too. My favourite things are always exercises about emotional connection. I’m an actor so that’s what I really love to see on stage, and I know people sometimes find the idea of connection and intimacy challenging so I really enjoy anything that can help with that.
How do you warm up before every show?
That can depend on the show/venue. I always want to feel vocally/bodily warmed up and will adapt that to the performance space so might take myself off to a corner (or on stage!) to do some exercises. And the warm up can often depend on the group too – sometimes we play games, sometimes we just chat about our days. I think it’s really important to hang out with my cast mates and have a laugh together pre-show. I like connecting with people before we go on stage so that we’re on the same page when we perform.
What’s your most memorable character that you have created on stage this year?
Cor that’s another hard one! I had a great time at the London Improvathon this year, which was set in the Wild West. I played the pastor’s daughter and it wasn’t so much that that I’m itself was a phenomenal character (!), it was more that the cast created such a rich world that it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of. And it turned out that everything that my character had believed to be true wasn’t so, and that her family had lied to her about her whole existence, so it started out really fun and playful and grew to be quite emotional. In my final scene I sang a song in a graveyard, surrounded by the cast playing my memories, and then I slit my own throat. Which was a pretty cool way to go!
Do you have any pre-show rituals – if so what are they?
Nah not really. I’m really led by my stomach (!) so I make sure I’ve eaten something before a show, being hangry is not an ideal pre-show vibe! Otherwise just hanging out with the cast.
When can people see you perform in the new year?
Best to check online for this. One of my resolutions is to be better at keeping my website and socials up to date! But I will be back at Hoopla, I’m doing Vaults Festival with the Committee, Shaken has some plans to tour as do Actor’s Nightmare and Blyton, I’m away on tour in a theatre show a bit as well. So a few options!
What are your plans in 2020?
Sleep?! Nah I have no intention of sleeping! I’m writing a play at the moment so hopefully I’ll manage to get it on next year. And obviously I will be doing more made up nonsense! I’ve got a few improv projects in the pipeline for 2020 so watch this space..!
And with regard to stuff that isn’t performance based (!) I’d like to get more involved in environmental causes, get outdoors more, see my family more, drink less wine and get off my phone!
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
I’m a bit crap at this bit. But I have a website and I’m (in theory!) on twitter:
@sallyhodgkiss on twitter
And Finally in three words – Why is Sally Hodgkiss so unique?
Noisy But Nice
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What makes your smile?
Anything to do with dogs.
What is your biggest strength as an improviser?
I would hope that I am a supportive player, I certainly try to be!
Dream venue to perform at and why?
The Globe. I got to perform there when I graduated from drama school and it was incredible but it went in a flash so I’d love to go back!
Are you a dog or cat person?
DOG dog dog dog I love dogs
What is the most delightful suggestion for a scene you can think of?
Something about ghosts! I am a very into spooky things.
If you had to have a tattoo to represent improv what would you have and why?
I would never have a tattoo because I would be too afraid the tattooist would nod off half way through and cock it up (sadly that is a real fear.) But if I did… dogs doing improv?
Who is your improv hero and why?
Too many to name!
What is the last thing you liked on social media?
No idea! But probably (shock horror) something about a dog.
Something on your bucket list
Meet Robbie Coltrane – he is my guilty crush but there’s no guilt there I won’t deny my love!
Photo Credit: Idil Sukan