With 20 groups and 111 official performers from 11 U.S.cities and a foreign country drawing record audiences, Florida Studio Theatre had to schedule all in every one of its five venues to contain its 7th Annual Improv Festival 2015. I attended every time scheduled for me from Thursday, July 9, 7 to 10 p.m.; Friday from 6 to 10; Saturday from 4 to 10:30. Regular shows lasted an average of 40 mins. with featured programs each night lasting 70. Here's my rundown on them:
Thursday, July 9:
JUST THE FUNNY – Miami
A short Sketch Comedy based on the suggestion of Travel and Lost Love had 5 comedians going to Nepal but somehow trying to be Italian and asking Buddist monks for help. Marlene Marcos did a crazy interpretation of a break dance, the best moments of a sketch that never quite came off all the way..
DEAR AUNT GERTRUDE – Tampa
The group offered, typically, a themed show, based on a suggested movie to which one might like to see a sequel. Ferris Bueller, now a soldier, was summoned, instead of having a day off, to go AWOL. Purpose: to see his father. The effect of the comedy depended on audience understanding references--for instance, experiences in the original movie and Charlie Sheen in his TV roles. During an improvised press conference, Darryl Knapp stood out by interrogating Ferris' father. A commercial creation was effective.
SICK PUPPIES COMEDY – Boca Raton
A simple one word set the 12 performers off. Ketchup. Couples exchanging positions and characters, eating or not, went through a variety of effects of Ketchup from tasting to bad breath. They gave out (imaginery) samples and somehow got to interviewing Donald Trump about Mexicans. A second comedy was set in a confessional with a pretend priest. “Pretend” was stressed for anyone who might be offended, but their titled “sick” still came through.
COMEDY SCHOOL DROPOUTS – Miami
Much energy was poured into an improv on Tacos. A radio broadcast on “Taco Tuesday” morphed into such topics as Krispy Kreme and Starbucks (which was in a former CVS spot), all of which a rabid capitalist tried to make rare so as to boast the price of places remaining.A comic ending took place between a supermarket and the radio station. Jonathan Cabrera became one of the funniest participants by remaining super-calm and dignified amid clowning and commotion.
PDC (Post Dinner Conversaton) – Tampa
Known for long form improv, the group took up the suggestions of Fish and mostly Automobile. Obviously rides in the latter were featured along with one man who had to run alongside a car since he had none. Each troupe member told a story from chidhood about cars. Each story incorporated more audience suggestions, and the results were quite clever.
PDC was Tampa's first improv group, and their long improv experience was obvious.
THE THIRD THOUGHT – Tampa Bay Area
An improv based on use of a Volkswagon involved jokes about driving but mostly the car's destination, a Red Lobster. Each member of the troupe acted out a corollary story. All stories came together at the finale. A sophisticated improv with unlikely references to Uber and the Uberman, Superwoman, and depression in 40 minutes.
Friday, July 10:
FST IMPROV – Sarasota
I hope I'm not being biased but I found FST IMPROV outstanding among groups doing short sketches and games. Under new director Will Luera, the goal of making FST IMPROV the best in the Southwest looked not far off. Eight segments included puppets with two audience members in a scene about singing, performance of a series of rhymes with no last words to be repeated, a hospital scene, and an interview with favorite Christine Alexander interpreting via mime for the hard of hearing—a bit always and deservedly well received.
MUSIC CITY IMPROV – Nashville
A citing of found objects prompted the song “Sounds Like a Song to Me”--all taking place in a Publix supermarket. Suggestions of things you might find in a book led to enactment of crazy crimes and a beach with signs prohibiting bathing but inability to prohibit sharks. After a few games, a man and woman were brought on stage to help create a story based on their suggestions that were kept away from the improvisers. The games were cute but with surprisingly little music.
HAWK AND WAYNE – St. Petersburg
Gavin and Ricky began playing two guys on a beach, contrasting stories about a wife and a fishing accident. A second scene played on the word “pumpernickel.” Humor was so subtle that there were few laughs. Same for the third scene portraying kids who are friends and talked about a mother and stepmother and a confused attitude about a dad. The duo was funnier than in previous years, which was not much at all.
DAD'S GARAGE – Atlanta
Always a hit, Megan Leahy, Tom Rittenhouse, and Travis Sharp delivered sophisticated monologues with each picking up the last word of the previous speaker. They brought on a non-native speaker of English—in this case, Polish—and did a story to which she contributed in Polish with the performers supposedly translating. Cute. Then the performers did skits using an imaginary hula hoop (energetically) and a hot Florida scene on an asparagus farm to which a14 year old came to ask for the farmer's daughter's hand (no, not actually). A top group!
VILLAIN THEATER – Miami
A Chicago long-form improvisation about the suggested peanut butter, it surprisingly involved a number of murders. There was a great deal of activity, not often very funny, but involving.
AVAILABLE CUPHOLDERS – Austin
One of two end-of-evening major productions, this one was based on audience choice of genres (such as avant garde, Shakespeare, Tween Eotics, sci-fi) and came up with a first long form based on Shakespearian-like treatment of a drama titled “It Lives.” This began with a battlement scene and mainly told the story of a princess (Kaci Beeler) imprisoned in a castle by her father. Except for a hilarious scene involving her being made up by three men, this was more like “Rapunzel.” No iambic pentameter either. Scene two took up Tween Erotics applied to “Busted Flats.” It involved a released prisoner and a driver who end up in a school cafeteria. Far fetched but fun.
Saturday, July 11:
IMPROV MADRID – Madrid, Spain
Ignacio Lopez and Nacho Soriano represented the best of European improv working on suggestions of a wedding to take place in a WalMart on a beach where the Pope is due but terrorists are flying in to kill him. Hilarious. Not only was the comedy broad but there were surprise nuances, such as an instance of the Pope slapping Nacho to which he immediately turned his other cheek. The glorious imparting of the story was constantly enhanced by Victor Monigote, to one side of the stage, drawing projections at the rear and often providing sound effects. At points where the others drive to various destinations, such as a quickly drawn WalMart, they “got into” a drawn car. The pope was able to come and go via a drawn helicopter, while terrorists were sketched in a plane over a sketched beach. The three performers worked in perfect harmony, with Ignacio slipping into various supporting roles such as a terrorist. Language differences often added to the fun. Wonderfully inventive!
BIG BANG IMPROV – Boston
A fun free-form style began with a sketch using champagne. The toasts were a major part of the comedy, each insulting Patrick Parnhiala. Rachel Rosenthal proved quick on the draw here and during subsequent forays into the audience. The characters ended up mainly in a school and almost lost the champagne idea but ended in a toast together.By sticking to the stage throughout, Will Luera grounded the other members of his former troupe. It worked.
SAK COMEDY LAB - Orlando
The always reliable SAK trio (David Charles, Rebecca Siegel, Joel Warren) started by weaving a love song involving the audience suggestions of glasses (not the kind one drinks from). A humorous theme of being blind to and because of love emerged. Next, a Police Station was scene of comic confusion, especially over a murderer who gets aroused by a visitor. Next improv involved a mother telling how she shot her husband, with the two guys speaking as one person interrogating her. After a short library scene, SAK moved on to a Mini-Music Never Written that took place in a schoolroom. Songs delivered extemporaniously included “I've Got a Chance” (to succeed) and “How to Be a Ten Year Old.” A dragon figured in the proceedings, BTW. Jim Prosser's piano music helped pace the action.
BABY WANTS CANDY – Chicago
A featured long form for closing night, the group sang with utmost wit the musical based on a place (Bed, Bath, and Beyond) and a sci-fi genre. The result: an amazing “Bed, Bath, and Beyond This Planet: The Musical”. Peter Swinn, a materialist and husband of Erica Elam, singing his love for “Stuff, Stuff, Stuff,” stored up in their basement all the things in their house when he hears of a storm coming. It was actually a spaceship from another planet, landing to find a husband for Ashley Ward, a last chance. If leader Tim Sniffen didn't see her choice, he'd destroy earth and take her home along with Ross Bryant. Meanwhile, in the basement Peter and Erica found homeless people who've been living there. They couldn't obey orders to “Stop” because the other plantiaries already landed, leaving “No Time” to get another place or life. But, in wonderous ways, the two women got together. Peter eventually turned from his position, “I've Got Stuff and That's Enough,” whereupon Erica found she had two lovers to choose from. Such suspense! Plot, dialogue, characters, music, and lyrics were all first rate. Seventy minutes passed as if half the time. A fitting last planned event with no competing ones.
Gathering of All Performers for an hour of unscripted fun. They worked well together, being chosen to play from a trophy cup bearing their names.
The groups I was not able to see were: IMPROV
BOSTON, whom I have reviewed positively in previous years; OMAR ARGENTINO
GALVAN from Argentina, who gave a special performance in Spanish; STACKED:
All-Female Musical Improv. Pianists
Jim Prosser of FST and newcomer Hunter Brown supplied excellent music
throughout. AVAILABLE CUPHOLDERS played two more performances after the
Festival and also headed workshops, as did many of the other groups during
Festival morning and afternoons.