Florida Studio Theatre’s second annual Sarasota Improv Festival got off to a high-energy start Friday night, with FST playing host to a number of improv troupes from around the country at the company’s Goldstein Cabaret.
The festival, which also offers some classes and workshops during its two-day run, was kicked off by FST’s own improv group, and they were a hit with their “emotional genre rollercoaster” bit (centered on a “slashing tires” suggestion from the audience) and a sketch that involved three party guests (in this case, Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan and Spiderman) whom the host of the party (member Adam Ratner) had to identify by their behavior alone. FST Improv also offered a “paper chase” improv borrowing lines from the audience, and member Christine Alexander scored, as she always does, with her sign language interpreter bit, getting progressively crazier and more frenetic but instantly recognizable (as with the use of support walker-like movements whenever the word Sarasota was mentioned).
FST Improv was followed by the two-member Jester Theatre team from Orlando, consisting of David Charles and Jay Hawkins. Using an “Is This Seat Taken” formula that starts off the segment with two chairs, a few props, and, again, a suggestion or two from the audience, the performers did a long-term improv centered on a principal’s office, where Hawkins played a high schooler with an indefinitely postponed graduation date and Charles the worried father of a student. The two worked well together, and it was intriguing to see the piece develop with a beginning, middle and end before your eyes.
Next up: Available Cupholders from Austin, Texas, who did another long-term improv. (It might have been better to alternate shorter and longer routines for pacing.) In this case, the team didn’t rely very much on audience input, aside from the first shouted idea of “a naked monkey,” relying instead on each other to carry through a piece about a team of scientists whose work on evolution (or devolution) goes awry. Although the performers were engaging and seemed to enjoy working with each other, ultimately this one dragged on too long.
Next to the last improv troupe I saw: The Dumb Show from St. Petersburg. Here again, two actors demonstrated the ease of working together on what seems a long-term basis; Gavin Hawk and Ricky Wayne asked for a saying from the audience (in this case, the comedy schtick line “get ‘er done”) and then proceeded to a bit about two roommates, one smoking pot and the other trying to give it up. The last line of that opening bit then led them to another routine, this one featuring Hal Holbrook doing Mark Twain doing Tom Sawyer and Charles Ludlam doing Huck Finn. Then (don’t ask how) the end of that skit led them to one about a man going to a doctor’s office for a penis reduction. Funnier than you might think, although again, it felt a little too long (the routine, I mean).
I didn’t stick around for the last troupe of the night, Dad’s Garage, from Atlanta (while the performers’ stamina seems endless, mine wears out around Hour 4 of improv). But there’s more to come Saturday evening, with Just the Funny from Miami, Improv Boston, SAK (from Orlando), Dominzuelan (from Chicago), a repeat appearance by Available Cupholders, and Sarasota’s other improv troupe, Lazy Fairy. The evening closes with an improv jam. If you don’t already have your tickets, check with the FST box office, 366-9000, to see if any remain.