8th Annual Florida Studio Theatre Improv Festival 2016:

2016 Bash Is Bigger and More Varied Than Ever

FST Organization, 18 Groups from 13 Cities in 3 Countries

by Marie J. Kilker - July 2016

Organized by Florida Studio Theatre's Rebecca Hopkins, Managing Director, who first conceived of the Improv Festival, this year's 18th boasted three full days of performances. From July 14 through to an All Play and Midnight Buffet on the 16th, 18 groups of 92 performers brought various forms of improvisation to four FST's venues. This issue also benefitted from the organizational work of Will Luera, engaged as Director of Improv last year, with the goal of having FST as the Southeastern Capital of Improvisation. There's no doubt any other Florida or regional venue has hosted as big a bash.

In a surprising twist on the usual captivating opening, a two-man group called JUST THE FUNNY began the festival with a downer. They announced that, during the auto ride from Miami, they decided to do an experimental kind of sketch. It was just the unfunny: nothing organized or with any point. Luckily, performing favorite from Tampa Bay, Darryl Knapp led onto the stage DEAR AUNT GERTRUDE, usually at Box Theater in the heart of Tampa. Using the suggestion of a rodeo, the group made the involved animals sheep, with all the appropriate noises. Brad Taylor captured laughs as a lamb carried frozen through the rodeo doings. Madison Kirby and Jaclyn Reilly figured out how to end the suffering of sheep Darryl, Brad, and also Michael Soviero in great displays of being caught and finally released.

In the same opening set, SICK PUPPIES COMEDY from Florida's Boca Raton did a sketch suggested by the subject pizza. In a weird pizzaria, little of the supposed specialty seemed to be available. Chef Ben Brouckaert could make only ham sandwiches. Much of customers Aaron Blye, Dr. Robyn Cassel, Stephon Duncan, and Rebecca Salus' concern was with what music to play on an imagined juke box or what sounds to create other than canned music. They seemed well attuned to the audience.

THE THIRD THOUGHT from the Tampa Bay area did a long form improv in the genre of science fiction, based on the suggested subject of asparagus. Monsanto as a provider of chemicals, suggesting those in fertilizer, figured in a play in which players were divided into crooked and upright growers. Kyle Friese, Jamie Hawkins-Garr, Patrick McInnis, Kate McFarland, and Matt Walker got into the subject of raising mushrooms. The group's progress was smooth but it had trouble ending.

PDC (short for Post Dinner Conversation, a Tampa Bay Area Comedy Arts Company) presented a long form graffic novel called “The Shebang” that evolved into circus.The members of the troupe who performed were Zach Mouriz, as a nice guy; Nicholas Riggs, turned blonde; Brooks Oglesby as a woman turning gray; and Chelsea Zemkoski, a gal who hates everybody. Mimicry was highlighted.

Miami's VILLAIN THEATER began a show based on the first moments of improvisation on the subject of tacos. While the improvisers got in line putting stuff into a shell, their talk became the subject of the set. Ryan Douglas Livingston seemed to star as the one who began each chapter of the story. Fellow improvisers were Case Blackwell, Peter Mir, Jeff Quintana, Jannelys Santos, and Anna Victoria. In addition to tacos, two of them made Diet Cokes.

In an ALL STAR COMPETITION at the end of the first Festival day, Hunter Brown proved a star by accompanying all the performers on piano in an improvised style to match theirs. Various games and a few very short sketches comprised the fare. Jay Hopkins, an improviser who was not in any of the performing groups but was scheduled to conduct workshops daytime, entered the competition and won! A real ham!

FST IMPROV of Sarasota opened day two of the Festival with a full stage of performers including Jim Prosser, main pianist throughout. They performed a bevy of short form improvs, including games, sketches, a “Should Have Said” word game, a Shakespeare title take-off, and some team quizzes complete with funny coaches. Will Luera directed Chris Friday, Patrick A. Jackson, Emily Levin, Joey Panek, Adam Ratner, Ali Reed, Natasha Samreny, Steve Turrisi, Joey James, Andrew Deeb,and Larry Bukovey—joined by Darryl Knapp who used to be an FST regular. Christine Alexander helped on the sideline. They used to kick off the Festival and many in the audience wished they had this year, as they proved very popular.

PARALLELOGRAMOPHONOGRAPH from Austin, TX, made an auspicious debut, as Kaci Beeler, Kareem Badr, Roy Janik, and Valerie Ward improvised a French farce, complete with many entrances and exits from the stage. Among their experiences were divorce, trying to eat well, engaging lawyers, proclaiming infidelity, and reciting a poem about everyone involved. By the finis, everyone wanted to marry Valerie! All was quite French and farcical. (This group appeared on two different nights.)

SPEECHLESS presented Daniel Orrantia and Felipe Ortiz, two Colombian actors, with a Canadian gal (Sarah Michaelson) running the sound and music on turntables. The men totally avoided speaking though their long form was a story. It was a big stretched out and had mainly to do with fishing (suggested) so as to have food. This piece was more dramatic than comical.

STACKED from Chicago featured four women in a musical. A song about memories led to a full musical program with some drama by well dressed Erin Goldsmith, Stacey Smith, Jenna Steege, and Katie Yore with Jim Prosser on piano. It was never clear what theme or subject had been suggested because the quartet immediately began to sing about Memories. There were mother-daughter relationships expressed in further song. As some I heard in the audience said, it was a wonderful musical but almost certainly largely scripted, not improvised.

NORTH COAST from the New York area acccomplished a Hip-Hop musical with comic flair. Richie Alfson, Kathy Berry, Rachel Rosenthal, Ethan Scott, and a troupe founder Douglas Widick conducted school. The concentration was on test making and taking. Its sub topics ranged from citing Kaplan abuses to working as a study group. A second half of the program took up celebrating an artist and stamp dealer, based on an interview with an audience member about her life. Hip-Hop continued cleverly.

On the third Festival day, WHEN X MEETS Y mainly with local performers and from as far as Brazil drew an early crowd to a variety of improvs of songs and lyrics. Hunter Brown on piano backed Ellery Carlson, Andrew Deeb, Chris Friday, Patrick A. Jackson, Ali Reed, and Maria Schaedler-Luera. Some numbers were solos backed by a chorus and others turned out to be confrontations between couples, sometimes countering each other. It started the day easily.

BIG BANG IMPROV concentrated on Boston-style free-form, in which a set goes through scenes for about a minute each for maximum comic effect. FST's Will Luera, formerly from Boston, joined this group in a love story. Fellow comedians Gregory Scott Hernandez, Patrick Parhiala, and Rachel Rosenthal played with the ideas of gravity, teaching, a young person seeming to get older, a dance, and asking questions. Will livened things several times by trips into the audience for the latter purpose.

AVAILABLE CUPHOLDERS, an ever popular group from Austin, TX, gave a lengthy show in a Shakespearian manner, suggested by Jeremy Sweetlamb, on “6 Ways to Get Out of Handcuffs.” Kaci Beeler, still the only woman in the group, formed “lovers” with Michael Joplin in a “Taming of the Pooh” sequence. Ace Manning supposedly was trained in an Irish School of Acting. Bill Stern did a lot with handcuffs. Jeremy went to prison but it turned out to be part of the group's play which ended by promising a “pretty exciting” closing night.

From Orlando, SAK COMEDY LAB presented a rock opera, laid in a department store. Chris Dinger acted as an announcer for various scenes to follow by Mike Carr, David Charles, Tmily Fontano, and Timothy D. Turner. Comic highlights had David trying on panty hose to test them, and everyone manipulating or dropping a squirrel around outside the store. What happened back inside was a stretch, and the show somehow veered to a new plot involving a car accident and a gas station. All seemed to make sense at the time and drew many laughs.

IMPRO, the Headliner of the Festival, acted out three stories in “The Twilight Zone.” These occurred on Friday and the last night, Saturday, each program lasting an hour and a half in the large FST Gompertz Theatre. (See my review in TotalTheater's Criticopia.)

A closing All Play brought representatives to the Gompertz of all the groups who took part in the Festival. Adam Ratner emceed them. These groups included those I could not see this year: IMPROV BOSTON as well as DAD'S GARAGE from Atlanta, GA (a favorite of mine in previous years).

There was a series of 14 workshops on Saturday headed by many of the troupes. Students worked in the morning and afternoon on various types of Improv and techniques. A midnight buffet merited applause from all performers and audience members who survived the three day Festival.

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