Philadelphia Improv Icon Bobbi Block Mentors Students to Perform Live Show
Meghan Brodie ’00, associate professor of theater and chair, describes Bobbi Block as an “improv institution.” The improv instructor, director, and entrepreneur has infused the craft into every part of her life. For this year’s annual Fringe Festival, Block brought the improvisational spirit to Ursinus.
Block had two days to prepare nearly 20 students to perform an all-original improv show for a live audience.
“They didn’t rehearse this,” she advised the audience before the show. “We will be discovering as they do.”
Block explained that improv is unlike a written play and more like a set of learnable skills, like basketball, or guitar. Just as dribbling and shooting is essential to being a proficient basketball player, or how chord changes and strumming are imperative for a guitarist, improvisers practice a set of different social and creative skills that allow them to relax and perform at their best on the stage. “For these students, this show is just another practice,” Block said.
This was not Block’s first workshop and show at Ursinus. Back in 2011, she directed a full-length improvised show with a cast of 12, and even a crew who improvised the lights and sound. “It was one of the stand-out artistic experiences of my career!” Block said. The show was called, Playing Favorites. The team pulled inspiration from the audience’s favorite people, places, and things. “Something magical happened,” said Block. “[We had] a cast of great Ursinus students, plus a beautiful facility and a creative, supportive technical crew.”
Fast-forward 11 years to Block’s improv show in the 2022 Fringe Festival—a performance with all Ursinus students and Professor of Dance Karen Clemente, who subbed in for a student in the final hours leading up to the performance. Besides having lots of fun together and putting on the most unpredictable performance in the history of the Fringe, how did they do?
“Their performance last night blew me away!” said Block. “Each performer incorporated the skills we explored in the workshops, and they performed with confidence, positivity and teamwork!” The show ended with a standing ovation.
Beyond the night of the performance, Block hopes the students on the stage and in the audience take away a few essential lessons from improv.
“Be present, learn to recover from mistakes instead of working so hard to prevent them, support your teammates, and accept others’ ideas and explore them,” said Block. Improv with more than one player means the creative direction of a scene can come from anywhere. Block’s advice: “You need to release control and collaborate!”
She hopes students fall in love with improv and want to do it more.