It’s no surprise that Florida Studio Theatre has a sketch comedy club just for kids. The downtown Sarasota theater company has had a thriving improv program for nearly a decade, spawning a senior comedy troupe and a two-day, summer-improv festival featuring acts from across the country.
What FST improv fans might not know is that the Kids Komedy Club (KKC) pre-dates them all.
Spearheaded in the mid 1980s by Assistant Director Kate Alexander and the late Dana Helfrich, an actor and a teaching artist in FST’s education department, the KKC began as a way to encourage creative and quick thinking and provide more stage time for advanced acting students.
Adam Ratner, a teaching artist in FST’s education department, was a member of the original troupe when he was 8 years old.
“It was like being a member of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” Ratner recalls. “Getting to go up on stage and be silly and make strangers laugh. The applause and the adulation from the audience was one of the greatest experiences.”
Last November, Ratner, now 33, resurrected the program. A member of FST’s professional improv troupe, Ratner now directs and emcees the KKC shows; it’s a role reversal that he says fills him with a tremendous amount of pride.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle,” he says. “I see the thrill these kids get out of being on stage, creating and making audiences laugh, and I’m transported back 20 years. Now I get to be a part of that creative magic again.”
Following a successful winter run, the troupe reconvened in April, offering Saturday morning shows for $6 that clock in under an hour and include a bag lunch.
High energy and infectious, KKC’s eight members include Tyler Page, Clarence Dodge, Sam Schimek, Mack Sullivan, Daysi Gomez, Lexy Christie, Allison Hadlock and Brooke Stutler. They range in age from 10 to 17 years old, and many have been in the program for at least two or three years, which gives their performances an almost grown-up feel.
“Each and every one of these kids, when they first started, experienced some sort of stage fright,” Ratner says. “But the minute they hear the audience laughing, they get under the bright lights and come to life.”
The KKC repertoire includes many of the same bits found in FST’s adult improv shows. The first half of the show is devoted to sketch comedy and the last half consists of audience participation and improvisation.
“It’s all PG-rated, of course,” says Ratner, who is also a playwright and coordinator of FST’s Young Playwrights Festival.
As a child, he says the program bolstered his self confidence and communication skills. Experiencing it as a student and a teacher has given him a unique teaching vantage point. He can relate to the initial trepidation, the ensuing adrenaline rush and the camaraderie among actors.
“I’m seeing a whole new generation of kids experience the same thing I experienced,” Ratner says. “And they see me — an old man who grew up and continues to have fun and stay young at heart for as long as humanly possible.”
If You Go
The Kids Komedy Club will perform at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 8, in the Goldstein Cabaret Theatre, at Florida Studio Theatre. For more information, call 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].