How Are You FEELing?
The Fringe wouldn’t be the Fringe without Bobbi Block. The artist and producer has been in EVERY SINGLE Fringe Festival since its foundation in 1997. This year, Block adds two more shows to her impressive Fringe resume: she’s dancing in Sylvain Emard’s Le Super Grand Continental on the Art Museum steps and producing another sure-to-be-a-hit improv theater piece by Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater.
In FEEL, T&G is asking audiences “How are you feeling” and really wanting to know: they will improvise a show based on the feelings of the audience. To put the audience at ease, they’re offering free massages before every show. Now that feels good!
FringeArts asked Block how she was feeling, and other questions about her upcoming Fringe shows.
FringeArts: How are you feeling today and why?
Bobbi Block: Today? Today I’m feeling joyful and optimistic about my current artistic endeavors. You?
FringeArts: Oh, FringeArts Blog is doing just fine. Why ask audiences that question?
Bobbi Block: Well, first I’ll explain why Tongue & Groove asks that question of each other. For eleven years now, T & G begins every rehearsal and performance with an “Emotional Check-in”—we report how we’re feeling. This accomplishes two goals: 1. It “stirs the pot” of emotional fodder so that real feelings are readily available for us to use as inspiration for our improvised characters and scenarios, and 2. Sharing feelings is vulnerable, and vulnerability and transparency builds trust.
So why ask the audience? We’ve asked the audience so many questions over the years: “What secret are you keeping?” “What do you want to do before you die?” “Who are you?” The answers are written anonymously on cards and used to inspire our improvised work. We figured it was time to ask the most basic question—and possibly most difficult to answer. Most people do not get a lot of practice exercising emotional literacy. We are socialized not to talk about our real feelings—and we assume no one really wants to know. Rarely does someone ask “How are you feeling?” (unless you’re ill); we ask “How are you?” or “How ya doin?” The typical answer is “Fine,” and then we quickly move on, thinking we’ve satisfied our social connection obligation. Even if we’re craving to connect with each other, many of us follow this social norm because we’re afraid to speak the truth.
Well, Tongue & Groove really wants to know! And we want to know because of the same two reasons above: 1. To practice emotional literacy, giving us juicy material to inspire our work, and 2. To build trust. In service of #2, pre-show, we’ll encourage folks to share their written answer with a stranger. Of course, they can easily choose not to share, however, we’re hoping that a few folks feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with a stranger, and are curious to see what connections arise. ☺
FringeArts: How will you help audiences express how they really feel and not just say “fine” like FringeArts Blog always does?
Bobbi Block: We’re providing a Feel Sheet in their program: this is a list of dozens of emotion words. It’s amazing how good it feels to truly capture how you’re feeling with just the right word—we hope the audience will experience that satisfaction.
One more thing: there are feelings about relationships, and feelings about situations. We understand that our audience is experiencing feelings about the world situation and our political climate that they may have never experienced before. This is a great opportunity to express those feelings…
or just bitch about your boyfriend.
FringeArts: Yeah don’t get FringeArts Blog started on that! “Tongue and groove” refers to a type of firm nailless joint in woodmaking. How does it suit the company?
Bobbi Block: Thanks for asking! Tongue & Groove means “seamlessly connected.” The artistic vision for the ensemble is that we feel deep trust and seamless connection with each other, so that we are thoroughly comfortable depicting any kind of relationship that arises in our improvised work. In addition, we are seamlessly connected to our audiences—without their collaboration, we can’t create our work. Last, but equally important, the audience gets to hear the anonymous submissions of their neighbors; we hope that that experience makes them feel more connected to each other.
So, eleven years ago, after three months and dozens of name ideas, we finally asked ourselves: is there anything in the world of construction that is a name for tightly connecting things? Someone mentioned the tongue and groove joint, and we knew we found our name.
FringeArts: Are you really giving pre-show massages? Who is doing so and why?
Bobbi Block: Yes! When we came up with the “feel” theme, we didn’t want to only focus on emotional feeling—we wanted to give a nod to physical feeling as well, since physical wellness and emotional and mental wellness are seamlessly connected (see what I did there?). So we partnered with neighbor Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, Logan Square, located several blocks north of the Adrienne Theater, on 20th between Hamilton and Spring Garden. They are sending two service providers to each performance. We’ll have free chair massage and hand massage happening in the theater for 30 minutes pre-show. Depending on the number of folks attending, the massage time will be limited, but, hell, even a 1-minute professional massage is enough to make you feel infinitely better!
FringeArts: You and Tongue & Groove are mainstays of the Fringe Festival. What do you like about it?
Bobbi Block: Simple: it’s great to be part of a community. While we’re happy creating art on our own schedule, once a year we make art at the same time that countless other artists are making art, and it then feels like we’re part of something bigger than us. In addition, of course, the Fringe marketing machine is enormously helpful for our small company to reach new audiences.
FringeArts: Yay Fringe marketing machine! What else are you looking forward to this Festival?
Bobbi Block: I’m looking forward to Le Super Grand Continental… Because I’m in it! I had such a great time when I danced in Le Grand Continental in 2012, that I rearranged T&G’s rehearsal schedule just so I could participate in LSGC this year! 150 fabulous and friendly castmates, 30 minutes of new choreography kicking my mental and physical butt—it’s all so much FUN! So glad to be a part of it all again!
When: September 7–22, 2018
Where: PlayGround at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street
Created by Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater, and you.