For 11 years now, Florida Studio Theatre has been livening up the summers with the Sarasota Improv Festival, drawing as many as 20 improv troupes from around the country and, in some cases, other countries as well. The recently wrapped 2019 festival welcomed returning favorites and some newcomers, and the latter is what I focused on Saturday night.
First up was a two-person delegation from the United Kingdom, working under the name The Maydays. Lloydie James Lloyd and Katy Schutte took a suggestion for a setting from the audience—a drawbridge—and proceeded to create a pair of sentries working the night shift and talking about spears before launching into a tune about how they loved the night (accompanied by piano man James Prosser). From there things segued into a king getting a new robe, a chess match, a volley of arrows and a song about how everyone has an arrow with his name on it, a patient and a witch who fears she’s losing her mojo, and a young apprentice on spear duty.
All in all, it was a comic capturing of medieval times that may have reminded viewers who were Monty Python fans of the now-classic Holy Grail movie.
Next came another troupe new to Sarasota, Happy Karaoke Fun Time, featuring Philip Markle, Kiki Mikkelsen, Ali Reed and Douglas Widick. Here again a suggestion (for a new one-night-only musical) from the audience led to the show I Know You Are, But What Am I? (Pee-wee Herman references, anyone?). Two kids with old money and two kids with new money faced off over rights to a playground, with a relay race to determine the winner. Here the gimmick is quickly coming up with appropriate lyrics to popular songs (music from DJ Drew), like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and the theme from Beauty and the Beast.
The foursome onstage morphed from kids to parents, going back in time to present a fateful affair between a rich Rothschild and a household maid. Highly energetic and even blending in some dance moves, Happy Karaoke Fun Time members looked to be having as much fun as the audience.
Headline company Quartet (consisting of Carla Cackowski, Craig Cackowski, Bob Dassie and Jean Villepique) didn’t need songs to deliver a clever set revolving around a ne’er-do-well adult son, Harold (Dassie), his insurance man father (Craig Cackowski), disowning mom (Villepique) and possible new girlfriend (Carla Cackowski). Of course the four played a lot of other characters, too, including a waiter at a restaurant named Tacos! (the exclamation point is important), a not-very-good receptionist, a macho guy still living with his mother, and more.
Somehow, they all connect believably in an extended storyline, thanks in large part not only to the group’s improv skills and experience but to acting abilities that have been honed on TV shows like Veep, Community, AP Bio and The Office. The characters they created were more than just quick skit stand-ins; you could imagine them in sitcoms where their stories would be continued.
While the improv fest is over for this summer, FST’s own improv ensemble continues to perform regularly, and the Dad’s Garage members are sticking around town an extra week to perform Murder, She Improvised (July 19 and 20). In addition, those hungry to learn how to do improv themselves can sign up for a Summer Improv Intensive with Joe Bill, Aug. 12-15. For more info, visit floridastudiotheatre.org.