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Performing Art
"One thing about arts that drives me crazy is that we always take ourselves too seriously," Rebecca Hopkins says. "We're not walking on water — we are storytelling. We need art, that's what makes us human."
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jun. 8, 2011 6 years ago

Improv master

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

Rebecca (Langford) Hopkins emerges from her tiny window-lined office at Florida Studio Theatre with a sun-kissed glow.

It’s been two weeks since she and Richard Hopkins, the theater’s artistic director, said “I do” during sunset at the Longboat Key Club and Resort and only days since the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon cruise to the Eastern Caribbean.

You’d think the managing director, a woman responsible for all of FST’s operations — including its three theaters, 14 residential properties and administrative wing — the head writer for FST’s “Laughing Matters” series and co-developer of more than 20 musical revues for cabaret, would be as much of a mastermind at planning a wedding as she is at planning shows.

“It was nothing like that,” Hopkins says. “I can’t wait to see the video, because the whole thing was so overwhelming to me emotionally that it blurred past me. I came over the boardwalk and saw my friends, family and Richard, and the whole world buzzed around me. I couldn’t stop crying during the entire vows. It was better than any show or any review.”

Returning to work after a two-week vacation required some hardcore catching-up for this multitasker, but Hopkins lives for changing hats at a moment’s notice and has been pushing herself to the limit since high school.

“I don’t come in and fall apart because I have stacks on my desk — I always have stacks on my desk,” she says, her eyes scanning over every semi-organized pile, finally settling on her computer screen where the emails are flowing in. “I’m a procrastinator by nature. All those self-help books on how to get organized — I call them horoscopes for management.”

This is Hopkins’ 13th season at FST. She started her career in the early ’90s as an actor hammering out improv with Next City Comedy, in Atlanta, and through the years transitioned into producing. When she signed a one-year contract with FST in 1991, she thought it would give her time to figure out where to move. Back then, it was anywhere but Florida.

“I was assuming Chicago, Seattle or New York,” Hopkins said. “None of these were real exciting to me because I hate cold weather, but they were where the theater was. I came here, fell in love with Sarasota and FST.”

Although the theater’s diverse programming impressed her, she noticed that it lacked a strong improv program, and that just wouldn’t do.

“I think it’s a fantastic form of theater because the shows are based on what the audience gives you that night,” Hopkins says. “I taught classes, and at the end I held an open class and invited people to bring friends. I came out to set up soda and cookies and found 100 people waiting in the lobby. I quickly threw everything away, there were so many people. By the second year, we had regular shows on Tuesday nights.”

She founded the improv program in 2001. Three years ago, she added to it by bringing in groups from around the country. She also organized an improv festival to take place in July. At first, ticket sales were disastrous, and Hopkins was terrified. She soon realized that with the shows geared toward a younger audience and what she calls “hip, older people,” patrons tend to wait until the night before to purchase tickets.

“Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so nervous — now it’s sold out,”

Rebecca Hopkins lets us in on the shows she’s worked on that are closest to her heart.
‘Laughing Matters’
“All of them. These are at my heart. I love sketch comedy. The day we lose our ability to laugh at how nuts this world has become is the day we are in real trouble.”
‘Night Train to Memphis’
“I could not love this music more. The storytelling is fantastic. It connects to the core of who I am. The bridge material just flowed out of me. The music and the stories are part of who I am.”
‘The Wanderers’
“This was one of those magic shows. I love the music of the ’50s and ’60s and the doo-wop groups. It was challenging as a woman to write for a four-guy group. I got to help them become what women imagine them to be.”
‘Piano Men’
“How could you not love working with the music of Billy Joel and Elton John? They are the Shakespeares of our time.”
‘The Flip Side’
“I have a pretty edgy sense of humor, and this one played to that. The show opened with ‘Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?’ and ended with ‘Still Going to Die,’ which celebrates the fact that no matter what we do, we all end up at the same finish line. I loved the darker side of it.”

The off-Broadway, honky-tonk musical comedy, “Cowgirls,” will kick off Florida Studio Theatre’s 2011 summer season with preview performances at 8 p.m. June 8 and June 9, at the Keating Theatre. The show runs through July 3. Call 366-9000 for tickets and information.


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