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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jul. 4, 2018 8 months ago

FST offers locally sourced laughter at its 10th Sarasota Improv Festival

Florida-based performers get their share of laughs at the Florida Studio Theatre's 2018 Sarasota Improv Festival.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

The 2018 Sarasota Improv Festival will pack 20 cutting-edge improv troupes onto Florida Studio Theatre’s various stages from July 12-14.

This marks the 10th festival of unscripted, screwball comedy. FST’s original 2009 celebration was a fun, funky, underfunded gamble. From that tiny comedy egg, the festival has grown into the improv equivalent of Godzilla — though not so destructive and much more funny.

This year’s troupes will be flying in from around the country and the world. But the festival hasn’t forgotten its Sunshine State roots.

Locally sourced laughter includes: FST Improv (Sarasota); Hawk and Wayne (St. Petersburg); The Third Thought (Tampa); Dear Aunt Gertrude (aka “DAG,” Tampa); Square One Improv (Naples); SAK Comedy Lab (Orlando); Sick Puppies Comedy (Boca Raton); and Just the Funny (Miami).

Michael Carr and Chris Dinger of SAK Comedy Lab. Courtesy photo

These merry bands of comedians are all hooked on improv. How did they fall in love with this art form? Every performer has a unique love story.

Patrick McInnis of The Third Thought took the leap from stage hypnosis to improv. “I loved the unpredictability of hypnosis,” he says. “Improv gives you the same controlled chaos — without all the bits of business. It was a natural progression.”

For DAG’s Corry Maguire, it was a role model — Chris Farley. “I saw the documentary, ‘I Am Farley,’” he says. “Two days later, I signed up for my first improv class. I fell in love with improv and haven’t looked back ever since.” In the same group, Darryl Knapp’s comedy heroes include Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters and his own grandmother.

These improv comics all love the medium — and the festival that celebrates it. For them, it’s like a big family reunion. Of an extended global family.

Greg Sofranko, Shaun Johnson, Dan Klein, and Scott Beatty of Square One Improv. Courtesy photo

“It’s great to see such a diversity of styles and people,” says Knapp. “We share tips and tricks, but we also share the sheer joy of getting together. Improv comedians are the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. At the festival, you really make friends for life.”

“You’ll get spoiled at the festival,” says Casey Casperson of Sick Puppies. “The best performers come, and they create the very best improv in the country. You’ll get spoiled here. There’s good stuff everywhere, but nothing this good.”

Rebecca Hopkins and Will Luera are co-curating this year’s festival. At this writing, they were human blurs zipping through the FST hallways. (Improv comedy doesn’t happen by itself, after all.) They slowed down enough to share some insights. Let’s start with what sets improv apart …

The Improv Connection

Patrick Jackson and Ali Reed, of FST Improv’s “When X Meets Y.” Courtesy photo

“I don’t want to get all touchy-feely,” says Hopkins. “But human connection is what sets improv comedy apart. I’ve have been around since the beginning of computers. I’ve watched technology connect the world — and simultaneously alienate us. You can easily go through your day without looking someone in the eye, reading their body language, or actually communicating. These three things are essential to improv. It allows me to continually look for the humor in life and make real human connections. That’s what makes this art form so special.”

Improv, Yesterday and Today

Ten years ago, lightning-fast improv games were all the rage. They haven’t gone away. But improv troupes have added long-form comedy to the mix, including spontaneously created musicals, rock operas “hip-hoperas,” and plays. Last year’s festival closed with “Blank! The Musical,” an ad hoc spoof of Broadway-style song and dance. This year, FST Improv opens the festival with “When X meets Y,” an on-the-spot, romantic comedy. And it’s only one of many long-form productions.

Where’s improv comedy going in the future?

“Improv comedy is constantly evolving,” Luera says. “It’s unpredictable by definition. We’ve come a long way since 2009, and that’s true for both the art form and the festival. I wouldn’t dare predict where we’re going next, but it’s going to be a heck of a ride.”

Christine Alexander and Joey Panek of FST Improv. Courtesy photo


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