Every Thursday night, before their weekly improv class at Florida Studio Theatre, four of the seven members of Vintage Whine meet downtown for dinner at the Panini Press.
They sit at a table in the center of the small restaurant and catch up on each other’s lives. They’re as candid as sisters and playful as kids, airing their daily nuisances and triumphs like characters in a sitcom.
They make a lot of noise — laughter mostly, followed by one perfectly timed wisecrack after another. Two weeks ago, they say they made so much noise the café shook.
If you’ve ever spied the foursome off stage, you’d understand why audiences adore them. They’re the kind of people you pay to see on stage. They’re natural comediennes.
There’s Susan Morin, a former Sarasota real-estate agent who recently launched a children’s nutrition program at Booker Middle School. A tiny woman in billowy clothes, the 4-foot-11 Morin is nearly a foot shorter than fellow troupe member Paula Morrissey, an arresting 5-foot-9 self-described “cougar” and former Manhattan chef.
There’s Nanci Rand, a raspy-voiced Atlanta native who moved eight years ago to Sarasota to retire from her career in high-end retail only to take a job working full time as the manager of Dream Weaver Collection on St. Armands Circle.
There’s also Fae Beloff, a New York City native, who ran a carpentry subcontracting business with her husband in Maryland before moving into a downtown Sarasota condominium and signing up for improv classes seven years ago.
In 2008, the women formed the irreverently titled Vintage Whine, a student improv ensemble that also includes Lynn Means, a retired special-education teacher and hobby clown, George “Daddy-O” Pochos, an affable radio DJ with his own jazz program on WSLR, and snowbird Marie Kropp.
“We were sick of standing still,” Beloff says of the class’ decision to form a troupe. “We wanted more. We wanted to be on stage. We said, ‘Move us or lose us.’”
After seven years of improv training, they were ready to take their act on the road. With the help of Rebecca Langford, FST’s managing director and improv teacher, they organized Vintage Whine and began performing the first Monday of every month at FST. According to their calculations, they’re the only senior improv troupe in the country.
“We’re a shot in the arm for Sarasota’s geriatric community,” Morin says. “We’re not silly and stupid. Everything we talk about is relevant and relatable.”
They’ve performed at retirement communities, churches, dentist offices, country clubs and fundraising events around Sarasota. In season, they average four gigs a month.
“We bring experience to the stage,” Morrissey says. “We can make a joke about a particular song or a TV show or about a period in our lives and audiences get it.”
The say the group is more cohesive now, tighter than ever before. Performing in front of a live audience has forced the women to be less competitive.
“I used to think I had to get up there and say one funny line after the next,” Beloff says. “It’s much more of a team mentality now.”
This new unified front is evident even in dinner-table dialogue. Like any well-oiled improv troupe, the women of Vintage Whine finish each other’s sentences.
“We didn’t realize what a troupe was until we formed one,” Rand says.
“We save each other, rather than try to outdo each other,” Beloff adds.
“It’s true. We’re much more sensitive to each other now,” Morin interjects. “No one is ever left hung out to dry.”
“We’re like the chicks in ‘Sex and the City,’” Morrissey deadpans. “Except we’re old.”
The women concur, erupt into laughter and quiet as a waitress arrives with plates stacked with sandwiches and chips.
They say their children and grandchildren are befuddled by the hobby. The first time Morrissey’s granddaughter saw a newspaper clipping featuring Vintage Whine, she didn’t believe her grandmother was in the picture.
“When your kids are little, you save everything that has their name on it,” Morrissey says. “Now my kids are burdened with all that stuff — every article, every playbill. I don’t care. I’m a ham.”
Last year, Vintage Whine proved they could hang with the pros when they flexed their comedic muscle alongside a dozen veteran acts at FST’s first Sarasota Improv Festival. The appearance helped cement a spot at this year’s two-day festival, which runs July 16 and July 17.
“They said we were pretty good — for a bunch of old farts,” Morrissey says.
And, once again, the women concur — and erupt into laughter.
If you go
Vintage Whine will perform at the Sarasota Improv Festival at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 17. For tickets, call 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at email@example.com.