The eighth annual Sarasota Improv Festival at Florida Studio Theatre will be over by the time you read this, but it’s worth taking a quick look back before calling it a day.
The festival, which ran Thursday, July 14 through Saturday, July 16, welcomed 18 improv groups from all over the country and beyond (including FST’s own home-grown troupe) to take to the company’s various stages, and the theater campus was abuzz as improv aficionados and the artists themselves mingled and moved from one show to the next. There were also workshops held on Saturday for those aspiring to someday perform improv themselves.
There may have been some dedicated audience members who were somehow able to see all of the performances scheduled, although my head spins just to think about it. I saw just two, on Friday night at the Keating and the Gompertz, but it was enough of a taste to remind me how different improv approaches can be.
The first show I saw featured Austin’s Parallelogramophonograph (PGraph for short), whose four members (Kaci Beeler, Kareem Badr, Roy Janik and Valerie Ward) presented their version of a French farce (making use of the kitchen set of FST’s current show The Roommate). Wearing exaggerated make-up and costumes to suggest their personality types (women in girlish dresses and white hose, men in dark suits), the cast improvised a story about a father, his daughter and her husband, and a would-be wealthy woman in the midst of a divorce that was just as silly as French farce often is. (Although it didn’t really seem to have much to do with the suggested inspirational word, “thimble,” tossed out by an audience member.)
There was lots of energy on display, and the four cast members seemed to be having a good time together as the wordplay escalated to more physical comedy. The company also presented another type of show during the festival, this one modeled on the Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930s and ‘40s.
The headliner of the fest was Impro Theatre, founded in Los Angeles and currently dedicated to bringing to life improvised takes on the classic television series Twilight Zone. Four actors (Lisa Frederickson, Dan O’Connor, Edi Patterson, and Ryan Smith) take turns presenting their version of those famous TZ openers by Rod Serling, after we’ve first met that episode’s characters and gleaned something about the setup.
Three episodes were improvised Friday night, and they were based on some familiar TZ tropes. The first involved mourners at a wake, including the dead man’s secretary, wife, young son and a co-worker; the second a shopkeeper (who sells only bananas, thanks to that suggestion from the audience) with a mysterious customer; and the third guests at a wedding, one of whom tries to travel back to the past to see if her life might have turned out more happily.
Music, sound effects and certain cues helped keep each of these bits on track, and yes, they all ended with something of a moral or lesson, just as the TV shows did. The cast was able to make use of props for another FST show, The Fabulous Lipitones, and even work a reference into a sudden rainstorm outside the theater into its script. Clever, well done, and evocative in its own way of one of the all-time great television shows.
While this year’s fest may be over, you can still enjoy improv with FST’s very own improv performers, Saturday nights at Bowne’s Lab Theatre. For tickets, call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.