The 10th anniversary version of Florida Studio Theatre’s Sarasota Improv Festival commenced on Thursday, but it really kicked into high gear Friday, with a full slate of improv troupes performing on FST’s various stages.
From a plethora of choices, most people going about their daily lives can only choose a few of the improv offerings. Friday evening, I chose three: La Carpe Haute, from Strasbourg, France; the all-female ensemble STACKED, from Chicago; and the evening’s headliner, ImproMadrid.
Each troupe has its own approach to the art of improv. La Carpe Haute (yes, the company speaks English, so don’t worry about that) does a freeform show depending on three objects obtained from audience members. In the case of the show I saw, those were a neck brace, a small box containing fold-up glasses, and a bag filled with bread slices. The latter probably got the most action by members, as Pauline Vernier used it to feed the “pigeons” that Gael Perry, Dan Seyfried and Cedric Marschal became at her feet (before swarming her). The neck brace was a bit problematic, as despite their efforts no one in the troupe could figure how to close it permanently, but it still did duty as a fan, a piece of headgear and even a baguette (they are French, after all). BTW, nice to see comedy legends Tommy and Dick Smothers in the audience of the Goldstein Cabaret for this show. (Dick, a Sarasota resident, was interviewed at FST earlier in the evening for That’s My Song: An Intimate Evening with Dick Smothers.)
Next up at the Goldstein was STACKED, which took a one-word suggestion from the audience—“lipstick”—and quickly segued into a song titled “You Made Me Just A Bit Better Than I Was.” Playing out improv in four-part harmonies, with some dancing involved, too, makes this group stand out; although the storylines may vary from show to show, one supposes the melodies (performed by Erin Goldsmith, Stacey Smith, Jenna Steege and Katie Yore backed by a pianist) have been “composed” to some extent before. They can range from a country-flavored “I Wanna Live Forever” to a more wistful song about an ice cream parlor to a sort of hip-hop number called “That’s Love,” where the women become pretty tough guys.
In keeping with the distinctions these improv troupes bring to town, the headliner of the evening, ImproMadrid, performing at the Gompertz, does something a bit different, too. (They’re also fluent in English.) While they start out posing some pointed—sometimes funny, sometimes serious—questions directly to the audience, they soon bring up one audience member at a time to answer more personal ones, with interviewer Ignacio Lopez. Then the rest of the team, including Ignacio Soriano and Paloma Cordoba, quickly concoct an improv skit around their answers. While they’re doing so in whispered darkness on the stage, Jorge Rueda is delivering a mix of keyboard songs (with a deliberate surplus of smooth and sensuality), to keep the audience entertained while waiting.
The questions are devised to provide comic material, of course, and on Friday night key words ranged everywhere from the Tampa Buccaneers to intimidating math teachers to tennis to trophy spouses. The performance lasted one bit longer than it might have been expected to, but it was intriguing to see ImproMadrid’s more Latin-flavored style and sensibility.
The fest continues today; for info call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.