23 Feb 2018

Auckland Fringe Festival preview: Social Muscle Club

11:55 am on 23 February 2018

Work it out.


Social Muscle Club

Flexing those social muscles. Photo: Andres Castoldi

Flexing those social muscles.

Photo: Andres Castoldi

Described as a fitness studio for our social muscles, the Social Muscle Club was started by a guy in Berlin who claims the idea was channelled to him from a spirit.

Each attendee at the Social Muscle Club is given two pieces of paper, one to write something they have to offer and the other for something they need. This could be as small as a hug or as big as a spare room to stay in, which is exactly what the founder of the Auckland chapter, Emma Newborn, did when she went to her first SMC at a festival in the UK.

“I offered a week’s accommodation in Auckland, because I have a spare room in my home and there was a woman at my table who had two tickets to New Zealand in March,” Emma says.

“She’s taken my details, she hasn’t gotten in contact with me yet but I really want her to follow through on that because I think it would be awesome. The whole idea of it is that all of your needs and wants can be fulfilled within your community.”

What drew you to the Social Muscle Club?

I literally just walked into the tent with no idea what I was doing and sat down. It really fits that festival environment, but the potential of it is what excited me - how we don’t need to look so far afield, we don’t need to be buying new things, like if you need a lawn mower someone down the road has one to borrow. It’s that kind of idea.

It really reminded me of Facebook where you put up that you have a bed for sale and then two people underneath might tag a friend, or they might say, “actually I really need a bed” and you might see the negotiation happen under the post and there was something about [Social Muscle Club] which I really liked, sitting around a table.

It was that negotiation happening in front of you, because it’s witnessed by the community, there’s some follow through on it or there’s a reason to follow through on it.

The other idea in it is that at this event there are these performance “gifts” that happen as well, and I was really interested in that side of it too. I’ve got Nisha Madhan from Fuck Rant and Brendan Green and they’re each going to do a bit of their Fringe performance. If this is an ongoing event, which I would like it to be, it’s helping this fringe theatre community to be able to tap into different audiences.

Social Muscle Club must provide some pretty interesting insights into the strangers around you.

Often times it’s more revealing what people have to offer than what people necessarily want. There are some incredibly generous offers on the table; it’s really quite cool.

What is it about today’s society that calls for an event like this?

I have always had a really optimistic idea that the answer to the state of the world is a return to community and to being able to look within our own village to be able to help each other and solve our problems. I also really believe quite strongly in community being something to help loneliness and disconnection. Any event that brings people together, and particularly one where the whole idea is that you’re sharing, excites me and I really want to see more of it. And taking it from that online space and taking it to a physical space as well is really important to me, and something I really feel we need, that we’re not stuck behind screens, that we’re in each other’s space as well.

I wonder if people would go to the event with an idea of what they might offer, or what they might need, see what other people are asking for and then change their offer or gift.

In the practice run over the weekend you could see that some people were quite generous right up front and other people were a little shyer about what they might offer. But then in the second round they really stepped up their offerings because they were thinking, “I really want to be a part of this and what else can I give?”.

That was really interesting to witness.

How do you think the idea might translate for a New Zealand audience?

My hope is that New Zealanders might surprise themselves, and it might take a bit of warming up into it. We’re very much of a “me and mine”, selfish culture that exists and you need to quite consciously work against that, so I would hope that people will start to warm into it.

There are definitely like-minded organisations that are springing up everywhere with that kind of “sharing economy” and “collective consumerism” at the core of their philosophy as well, so it definitely is starting to happen, but I really would like to see it branch further and further out. I think innately we want to do this. I think it is a very natural impulse to want to help other people and things like that, but perhaps it’s not something we’re very well practised at.

Actually, I retract what I said earlier, I don’t think we’re naturally selfish, I think we’re the opposite, but we’ve been taught a different way or marketed a different way.

You talk about this event helping to tap into a community, how do you find the Fringe community in Auckland?

Oh, amazing. Fringe almost dissolved and wasn’t in existence and then [Auckland Fringe organiser] Lydia Zanetti just picked it up and was like, “No, we’ve got to make this happen”, and really the swarm of people who are around her and are in this community have just made that happen.

I remember seeing her put posts up on Facebook asking for help when she first decided to put on the Auckland Fringe Festival herself, and it’s like Auckland Fringe was created through a larger version of the Social Muscle Club.

Definitely. And saying, “I need this”, “I need a car to go and pick up these flyers and posters” - people respond to that! And you don’t even know sometimes what people need unless you ask for it. Like, I have a car that is parked in central Auckland most of the time sitting in a carport doing nothing. I would love it if people who needed that knew that that was there and they can use it at any time to pick up a rabbit hutch they’ve bought off TradeMe – whatever it is.

I feel very privileged to be a part of this theatre community actually and the Fringe community. Exciting work is happening too. It’s not just the people, it’s the work. I get really excited about it and I am in constant awe and excitement about my friend’s minds and I think that is definitely worth celebrating.

Social Muscle Club is on at Basement Theatre on Saturday 24 February as part of Auckland Fringe.