Improv Community Heroes: Jess Napthine-Hodgkinson

We love touring Sex, Lies & Improvisation and teaching workshops round the country, especially when we get to visit other improv communities. We’ve noticed that improv scenes usually require someone to do all the boring bits so that the rest of us get to have fun. Let’s celebrate those people with this blog series. 

Everybody, these are…The Improv Community Heroes!

Hero Fact File

Name: Jess Napthine-Hodgkinson 

Location of Hero-ing:  Glossop, Derbyshire, but with an online element that spans the globe!

Drop-ins: Our weekly in-person sessions are drop-ins suitable for all levels of experience. We meet on Fridays at 7pm upstairs at Glossop Labour Club. Our online sessions are on a Friday every two weeks.

Performances: We perform a show that includes both shortform and longform on the last Thursday of each month at The Oakwood Pub in Glossop

Rachel: Tell us about Glossop Improv. 

Jess: The Glossop Improv community is almost 4 years old now and is one of the most warm and friendly communities you are likely to find. Whether it’s in person or online, we pride ourselves on making a space where everyone feels comfortable and valued.

Glossop is a town between Manchester and Sheffield. It’s not a huge place but is packed full of really talented people so we are very lucky to have these folks as part of our group as well as others that travel in to us from nearby.

We love performing in Glossop and seeing how many people we can fit on our little stage upstairs at The Oakwood! Our ethos has always been to welcome anyone to perform as soon as they feel ready – or sometimes we give them a little nudge to get up on stage!

We have also maintained the online presence that we had during the pandemic and are joined by brilliant people from around the world. We are finding opportunities wherever we can to meet them in person and it is such a joy to continue these connections.

Alongside our core teaching team, we have been honoured to have amazing guest teachers for both in person and online sessions.

 Rachel: It’s great that you do live and online sessions.

Jess: Although the pandemic was difficult for everyone, it also opened up a lot of opportunities for us. The online presence that we established and the connections that we made have hugely enriched our community. It meant that when the world started to open up again, international teachers included Glossop on their teaching tours of the UK and Europe! We have been able to learn from so many incredible improvisers such as Karla Dingle, Michelle Gilliam and Vanessa Anton. We continue to maintain the relationships we made during the pandemic and are looking forward to an online workshop with Velvet Wells soon.

Returning to in person improv was exciting and a little scary initially as we didn’t know what things would be like in this new world. It was fitting that our first in-person session after lockdowns was run by David Escobedo who did (and continues to do) so much for improv communities like ours through The Improv Boost.

We quickly found that there was more appetite than ever for in person improv but are glad that our online group is still going strong.

Rachel: Alex and I loved teaching in Glossop. How do you approach bringing in guest teachers?

Jess: An important thing for me as a teacher/facilitator is checking in frequently with the group about what they want to work on and finding teachers both locally and further afield who can come in to teach a particular skill or to just bring a fresh perspective. You don’t have to do it all on your own! And, in fact, more teachers mean a greater breadth of experience to draw from.

Rachel: What top tips can you offer other improv communities?

Jess: Encourage community members to share their knowledge and skills: Supporting members of your group to share their knowledge and expertise helps them build confidence in facilitating. It also allows for the community to be democratic and driven by its members rather than whoever is “in charge”. This could be as simple as encouraging them to describe a game and lead the group in playing it or helping them to lead a whole jam, drop-in or workshop.

Connect to the wider improv community: There are always interesting conversations going on in improv Facebook groups. There are also organisations like Queen City Comedy who are leading the way in creating and maintaining global improv communities. Not only will you learn new techniques and fresh perspectives but it will also open the door for your community to be involved in festivals both online and in person.

Rachel: What’s difficult about being an improv community hero?

Jess: I run Glossop Improv along with Sekki Tabasuares, Iain Luke Jones and James Fennell. Finding time to do the administration that comes with putting on workshops, shows and keeping up an online presence can be a challenge! This work is often unseen in improv communities and can be quiet time-consuming. Something I am learning is that it is OK (and necessary) to ask for help. I’m very grateful to have some amazing teammates to share these tasks with and a community in which everyone truly has each other’s backs.

 Rachel: What’s awesome about being an improv community hero?

Jess: I love seeing people discovering improv. We often have newcomers with no background in improv or performing come along to sessions. It usually goes a little like this:

Them: “I haven’t done anything like this before so I probably will be terrible at it so I’ll just watch for the first session”

Us: “That’s absolutely fine. Just take a seat and get involved in whatever looks fun. Or you can watch, you learn a lot that way too”

… 10 minutes later…

Us: “Can we have two people up for the next game?”

Them: Stands up, gets involved in a game, is brilliant at it.

It is so rewarding to have someone put their trust in me as a facilitator and the community as a whole and to step out of their comfort zone. Seeing folks grow in confidence week after week and challenge themselves to try something different is why I teach improv. I feel so proud of our group, of how talented they are, how supportive they are and the inclusive space we have created together at Glossop Improv.

Rachel: And what else have you got coming up:

Jess: We will be performing at the Liverpool Improvisation Festival in April. Alongside James Fennell and Louise Croombs, I will be delivering a Play At Your Own Speed workshop at the festival. This brings together our experiences as improvisers with unseen conditions and highlights that there is space in improv for different energy levels.

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