Just off 4th and South streets, the intimate Shubin Theatre sits nestled inside a tiny corner venue. The quaint venue hosted Tongue and Groove May 5, one of the area’s leading improvisational theater companies.
The show consisted of many short “serio-comic” scenes based on information provided by audience members on the spot. Though the show followed a format, none of the performance content was scripted. Every piece came spontaneously from the minds of the performers with a little help from audience input. Seating was limited to about 40 audience members, which worked in favor of the intimate nature of Tongue and Groove’s performance style.
The preamble of the show, delivered by Bobbi Block (producing artistic director, performer and Drexel instructor) prompted audience members to answer two questions in writing: “Who are you?” and “Where do you feel the most like yourself?”
After collecting these answers, the performers used them periodically throughout the show to create the platforms for their scenes. The characters and settings were inspired by the audience suggestions but often taken into a very original context invented by the actors. For example, one performer picked a card that described a young Jewish woman and her desire to find her place in the world.
That bit propelled itself into a sketch about a couple with religious differences deciding how and where they would spend their holiday. Most of the characters were created in this way and ranged from a commitment-phobic young woman grappling with her sexuality to a pair of crass, elderly interior designers helping a single woman create a date-friendly home.
The performers played multiple roles within the show and often switched back and forth between them. However, the characters they created were so strong and distinct that the audience could easily stay with them through the transitions. The use of specific body language and vocal choices made all the difference in keeping the characters unique and immediately recognizable.
One of the most interesting segments of the show involved pairs of characters corresponding over the Internet, where a lonely yet colorful man crosses paths with a cyber-predator. A desperate, presumably single mother chats with a man who is, frankly, not all that into her, and another woman finds that her boyfriend has an almost obsessive interest in her mom. The pairs rotate, implying the passage of time in their particular correspondence every time they land in the hot seat. By exploring the very real reservations many people have about connecting over the Internet, the improvisers elicited many laughs and much empathy.
There is a certain excitement and sense of synergy that comes with improvised theater. The artists and audience collaborate to create something together, and that something feels real and satisfying. Tongue and Groove will be bringing its fresh, collaborative style of improvised theater to the Philadelphia Fringe festival in September, where the company will debut a brand-new show format. Tongue and Groove has also recently been accepted to perform at the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.