Bobbi Block is a 2008 City Paper Award Winner for "Actress Who Will Lead Improv To The Promise Land" who has been performing and teaching improv for over 25 years combined. In 2006, She founded Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater in Philadelphia. Prior to Tongue & Groove, she was the co-producer and education director of the Barrymore Award Recipient ComedySportz for 15 years and artistic director for 2. In addition, Bobbi performed longform improv with LunchLady Doris for 12 years and with the interdisciplinary improv group Playback Philadelphia for four years. For the 2007 Philly Live Arts Festival, she conceived and directed "LEAP: The Actors’ Improv Experiment," in which she trained veteran, award-winning scripted actors in the art of improv. Bobbi studied with master improvisers at renowned theatre centers such as The Second City, ImprovOlympic, the Annoyance Theatre, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and the New Actors Workshop. Bobbi has a master’s degree in theatre, teaches Improvisation at Temple University and Drexel University, and has taught improv at The University of the Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, Bucks County Community College, the Wilma Theater, the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Philly Improv Theater (PHIT), and in private classes. In addition to teaching and performing Improv, Bobbi is also an Executive Coach and Communication Skills Facilitator using her improv skills to teach businesses and others how to be more effective/productive in engaging clients and delivering presentations.
Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater will be performing at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) in "Impulse" on April 15, 22, and 23 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Rendell Room (300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102). Click here for a chance to win a pair of tickets to this event!
Bobbi described Tongue & Groove's show in her own words: "Our show "Impulse" was inspired by the fact that the theme of PIFA is turn of the century Paris and during that time all these artists were moving from their homes to Paris. Since they had this impulse to leave their homes to find out what's happening in Paris, we got the idea to do a show around the idea of people following their impulses. What we are doing for our show is asking the audience to write down times they followed an impulse, times they regretted following an impulse, times an impulse saved their life, romantic impulses, or an impulse that is building in them that they haven't acted on yet. We are asking for all of this anonymous information and will use that information to form our improvised show. PIFA is about collaborative inspiration, which is what Tongue and Groove does anyway, we want to create that collaborative effort with our audience."
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Wow, that's a good first question. It was something inside me to be honest, I don't know that I have an outside influence. I just always wanted to be on stage and gravitated towards it.
2. What made you start Tongue & Groove Spontaneous (Improv) Theatre and how did you come up with the company's philosophy? I created Tongue & Groove because I really wanted to elevate the art form of improvisation above what I had been seeing. There were two things that influenced me. I had been doing both short-form improv (which is more like short games like "Who's Line Is It Anyway") and long-form improv (which is more like scenes/monologues) for a while with this company I co-produced in Philadelphia called ComedySportz, but wanted to do something that was more theatrical, more about relationships and how human beings relate to each other rather than doing something wacky and surreal. All improv allows you to be wacky and surreal and while I enjoy that, I didn't feel that was the kind of work feeding me and was going to make an audience move like a theatrical experience which takes an audience on an emotional journey. One night I saw this improv company, TJ & Dave, who are two actors that do a one hour improvised play which is very theatrical. There's nothing magical happening, it's just two guys relating to each other and when I saw these guys perform, it was very theatrical and took me on this journey and I just couldn't believe this thing wasn't scripted and that it was created in an hour off the top of their heads. At the same time, I started teaching an improv class at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I was working with trained actors in the conservatory program and they really were taking their acting seriously. Then I came in to teach them improv and the combination of their acting training and my improv work allowed them to do that kind of grounded, emotional work that was maybe sometimes it was funny and maybe sometimes serious, but at all times, it was following the truth of the story being told. So, it really was a combination of being inspired by TJ & Dave and by these well trained acting students that allowed me to figure out I could start a company that took the best of acting and the best of improvisation and put it together. That's how I came up with Tongue & Groove. When I say the the mission statement of Tongue & Groove is to have the integrity of something that is scripted and the tension and playfulness that is improvised, that comes from me taking all that inspiration of TJ & Dave and the acting students and casting improvisers who could act or actors who could improvise. Actors and improvisers are usually very separate, most actors are scared of improv while most improvisers don't have a lot of acting training. I act our work very carefully and make it this signature style called seriocomic improv, which means it could be serious or it could be funny depending on the truth of the situation, but nothing unreal happens in our show. It's all based upon realism.
3. What made you want use your performing skills to teach team building to business as opposed to strictly focus on performance? From my undergraduate days, I've always been interested in education and using creativity and the arts in education. I was never an actor who fell back on teaching, I was always doing both simulatneously. I started out doing a lot of teaching of acting, improv, and playwriting to youth and then I started teaching to adults. The adults got really excited by the improv because a lot of the skills to be a great improviser are really great social skills that you need in life. They would all come up and say to me how much they are using these skills in their everyday life. To be a great improviser you need to be a good listener, be very present, and let go of your agenda and collaborate with others. You also have to get rid of the little voice in your head that makes you focus on other things or what you are going to say next and improv really teaches you how to do that. Those skills really transfer into the workplace whether it's engaging with your clients or giving a presentation. It was just a natural connection and a lot of people were telling me about that connection, so I pursued it as a career to use improv and acting skills to teach anyone how to apply the skills to make them a really great improviser to make them a really great leader or team player. Me: Do you do the team building outside of Philadelphia? Do you travel around the country doing it? I do. So there are really two things I do in this arena. I do team building and leadership development. I do a lot of team building, which uses the same skills as improve, with ComedySportz and that lends itself to getting groups of people to work as a team. I do a lot of that in Philadelphia. I also do leadership development which is more about engaging people and listening, using acting skills to really connect with people. That I do with a few companies that send me all around the world.
4. What excites you most about participating in PIFA? How do you decide what to perform in a festival like PIFA as opposed to a season show? I think PIFA is fantastic for Philadelphia. I love Philly. I love the Fringe Festival in Philly, which happens every September and it really gets people out there seeing shows. I think it's great to have PIFA in the springtime which is going to get people out there seeing shows and uniting so many different types of art forms under one umbrella. I'm also absolutely thrilled that the festival director Jay Wahl looked at our application to participate in PIFA and says to me, "I would like Tongue & Groove to perform at The Kimmel Center." That really excites me that we get to be in this beautiful venue and seen by more people and allows us to follow my mission of having people see improvisation as a heightened art form.
5. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever received about my art is from Dave Pasquesi from TJ & Dave, "Pay Attention." The best advice I've ever gotten about life is "Don't make any decisions after 2am, go to sleep."
6. Favorite way to spend your day off? I like to play drums in my Samba Band, so whenever we can get together is fun. I also like to dance to Brazilian music when I can. I really love walking around Philly just exploring the city.
7. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Hahaha...my god that is such a good question. There are two dreams I would like to have. On the more serious side, I would dream about my dad. My dad passed away and it would be really, really nice to talk to him. On the more fun side, I would like to dream about Robert Downey Jr., just having a little fun with Robert.
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