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Improv actors prep for playtime

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 6, 2011
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Picture this: You walk into a conference room and seated at the table are the following characters.

There’s a man who has mastered the art of falling down anywhere, even if it hurts, and acting like furry woodland creatures (and, on occasion, he morphs into a hippo that attends cocktail parties); a mobster who doubles as a sexy old man after even older women; and a grandma who’s a little too fond of removing her clothing in public. Then, there’s Martin Martinson, a creepy Civil War fanatic in his mid-40s who lives with his mother and borrows her computer for his Internet business — he makes Civil War figures out of old meat.

These are the personalities that make up Florida Studio Theatre’s Improv Troupe. And, with the this group, you never know what’s going to happen. The hippo could turn into a talking tree. Or a dream-analyzing reverend could tell the audience members that a killer is chasing them through mansions because they do bad things at night.

Next month, the troupe is hosting the Sarasota Improv Festival, now in its third year. It has become so popular that last year, two men wound up in a drink-slinging fistfight over seats.

“It’s all professional improv troupes that are coming, and, normally, they don’t do festivals, but they’re so enamored with the way audiences are attracted to this festival that they’re chomping at the bit,” says the mobster, aka Adam Ratner. “We get the opportunity to perform with people with other styles and different senses of humor. At one time, there could be 30 improvisers on stage.”

The troupe always performs first in the festival, which the actors enjoy because the audience members are fresh and paying attention. They take lots of suggestions from the audience and play between four to seven games, ranging from an emotional genre rollercoaster to perspective games, with scenes running up to five minutes each. Other troupes could take one suggestion and perform a 45-minute play — it could be four actors playing 15 different characters.

“The audience dictates the show,” says Christine Alexander, who plays the stripping grandma. “They could say ‘beach’ or ‘inside a bathroom at a dirty rest stop’ or ‘monkey grinder’s brain.’ They pull all of the strings — we just make the ‘ha ha.’ Laughter has healing powers. If you’re sick, come. But not if you’re coughing.’

According to Christine Alexander, guests attending the Sarasota Improv Festival should come prepared.

n Improv is a form of theater in which there is no script, no set, and everything is made up on the spot. A bare stage can turn into a circus or airplane right before your eyes, so watch out.
n The more outrageous the suggestions, the more fun.

WHAT: Third annual Sarasota Improv Festival 2011
WHEN: July 15 and July 16
WHERE: Florida Studio Theatre’s Goldstein Cabaret, 1241 N. Palm Ave.
TICKETS: $10 for individual tickets; $29 for an evening pass and workshops; $49 for a weekend pass
CALL: 366-9000

Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].