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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Jul. 22, 2019 8 months ago

2019 Sarasota Improv Festival offers big laughs and new take on the art form

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Improv troupes from around the nation showcased their art at Florida Studio Theatre. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of some of the highlights.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Improv troupes from around the nation showcased their art at Florida Studio Theatre July 12 and 13. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of some of the highlights.

Like everything that’s already happened up until now, this year’s Sarasota Improv Festival is now history. How to describe it? Well, that’s the hard part. Improv happens in the moment. In that sense, it’s very much like a train wreck — albeit, a funny train wreck, in which no one gets hurt. Say, the Little Engine That Could crashing into a clown car stalled at a railroad crossing, thus sending the clowns flying in all directions, but leaving them miraculously unharmed, thanks to all the balloons and cream pies they’ve been carrying in the backseat. As with such a train wreck, my powers of description fall short. But here’s the best I can do ….

Friday, July 12

Available Cupholders hails from Austin. Courtesy photo

FST Improv opened the festivities with free-form frolics. Four audience members helped the troupe create the ideal pointy hat. The performers critiqued a painting (of a cat) by a painter who used kitty litter for paint. Chris Friday gave birth to two people, at least. God also appeared in the form of Will Luera.

Happy Karaoke Fun Time created an instant musical to the tune of karaoke soundtracks. The troupe took the audience suggestion (“A Shooting in Schenectady”) and ran with it — all the way back to the war of 1812. The convoluted plot followed two male soldiers (a traitor and a frustrated dancer) and their wives (who dressed as male soldiers to fight for America). They skewered songs by the Backstreet Boys, Adele and Carly Simon. In the end, the frustrated dancer unleashed his inner Billy Elliot and did some fancy footwork. Despite all that, the whole musical ended up being a story told to children by a librarian. 

Parallelogramophonograph told the story of a forgotten man named George. He lived and died in a small town; nothing much happened to him; nobody remembers him. He remains forgotten.

Big Bang Improv features improvisors from Sarasota, Boston and New York City. Courtesy photo

2-Man No-Show’s Isaac Kessler high-fived, shook hands, embraced and personally greeted every member in the audience. 

Dad’s Garage enjoyed an improvised vacation in Hershey Park. All three members were stuck together by chocolate, but soldiered on. 

The Maydays duo portrayed a day in the life of two characters stuck in an elevator. One couldn’t stop talking; the other barely spoke. They almost found love, before the power came on.  

Quartet’s “Killer Bees” was a sweet long-form improv piece about the rocky love life of honey harvesters. One performer poignantly described a killer bee as, “the perfect metaphor for our relationship. You sting me and then you die.”

Festival All-Stars closed the first night with a dream team from various ensembles. The comedy they dreamed up included an infomercial (for bovine self-help tapes), a family reunion and the levitation of Will Luera.  

Saturday, July 13

StaceJam showcased Stacey Smith’s latest improv song and dance routines. Starting with the audience suggestion of “Bulldozer,” she embodied eight characters in an on-the-spot musical about demolishing barriers of all descriptions.

Definitely Not Murderers’ “Snow White Gets a Sunburn” offered a useful lesson: “Pale Disney princesses should slap on lots of sunscreen.” 

Headlining Los Angeles-based group Quartet performed both days of the festival. Courtesy photo

When X Meets Y had another lesson: “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Especially if you’re a librarian.”

2-Man No-Show regaled the audience with “Rashomon” variations of scenes from a bad fishing trip, scat radio and a sermon pleading for cash donations.

Available Cupholders cooked up an “Antiques Roadshow” parody with a fan, a necklace, a leprechaun figurine and a plush toy. These items were gathered from the audience and ultimately returned. 

Big Bang Improv created a clinging chase scene involving Will Luera — who carried around one of his fellow improvisers while running through the aisles of the Keating Theatre — and a complicated family backstory.

SAK Comedy Lab spoofed the space operas of the 1950s with a literal space opera involving a space cadet, an alien and a robot nurse. 

2-MAN NO-SHOW led a workshop called Going Bigger and Beyond: The Technique of Play on July 13. Courtesy photo

Quartet jumped off the deep end with long-form improv weaving together a bad driver, a bad father, bad gardening, a bad waiter and bad directions from an iPhone. 

Festival All-Play brought all the groups on stage to close the show. (With a total of more than 100 performers, the stage got a little crowded.) Random troupes performed random games, including “Curtsy, Bow, Corgi,” “I Like My Loves Like I Like My ____” and movie pitches for “Cat Baby” and other two-word titles.

Conclusion

Improv is as funny as ever. But it’s funny in a new way. 

There were far less “Whose Line is it Anyway?”-style improv games this year and far more scene-based, story-based improv comedy. In the Second City tradition, these came in the form of organic scenes, which flowed out of sharply defined characters.

Improv games aren’t dead by any means. 

But improvised storytelling is very much alive.

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