When the Sarasota Improv Festival debuted seven years ago, it was a modest affair. In fact, even calling it a “festival” might have been a bit of a stretch.
“When we first started it was two nights in the Goldstein Cabaret,” said Rebecca Hopkins. “This year it’s three nights in four of our five theaters. Everything but the Court Cabaret. And in fact we have workshops in the Court Cabaret. We’ve come a long way.”
Hopkins is the managing director of Florida Studio Theatre, which has been home to the Sarasota Improv Festival since the beginning, and she’s producing director of the festival itself.
The Sarasota Improv Festival, which opens Thursday, hasn’t merely expanded, she said, it’s gotten better. It’s developed a national reputation, and some of the best improvisational comedy companies in the country are eager to perform at FST during the festival.
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When we first started it was two nights in the Goldstein Cabaret. This year it’s three nights in four of our five theaters. Everything but the Court Cabaret. And in fact we have workshops in the Court Cabaret. We’ve come a long way.
So audiences now get to see a wide variety of improv styles, from long-form improvised plays to quick improv games. Audience suggestions are often part of the performances, but audience members don’t have to worry about being pulled up on stage or put on the spot from their seats.
For theater aficionados who haven’t experienced live improv before, Hopkins said, there’s no reason to shy away. It’s a different kind of theater experience, but it’s not all that different.
“The main thing is, it’s funny,” she said. “If you like comedy, you’ll like improv. All sketch comedy is based in improv.”
For performers, part of the appeal of the festival is that it gives them a rare chance to experience each other’s work and learn from each other. Most of these acts keep busy performing and seldom get to see acts from other cities. The Sarasota Improv Festival lets them see what other groups are up to, and even take workshops taught by some of the professionals in the genre.
Everyday people can take the workshops, too. There are tracks for experiences improv performers and tracks for absolutely beginners who are interested in dipping their toes into the improv water.
This is the second year that the Sarasota Improv has been a three-day affair. Thursday’s performances are all by groups from Florida, which has a burgeoning improv scene, Hopkins said.
Although she wants and expects the festival to grow, Hopkins said it will probably remain a three-day event, all at Florida Studio Theatre.
“I want it to get better, but not bigger,” she said. “I want it to be the kind of festival where people can see every single show, if that’s what they choose to do.”
Details: July 14-16, Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave, Sarasota. Beginning at 7 p.m.Thursday, 4 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday. Three-day pass $69, two-day pass $59, Thursday $20, Friday or Saturday $49, Single tickets $10-$25, Zap! Bang! Pow! $6. 941-366-9000, floridastudiotheatre.org.
Thursday, July 14
7 p.m. (Bowne): Just The Funny, Dear Aunt Gertrude, Sick Puppies Comedy
8 p.m. (Bowne): The Third Thought, Post Dinner Conversation, Villain
10 p.m. (Bowne): FAST Florida All Star King of the Hill Competition.
Friday, July 15
4-5 p.m. (Green Room): Giggle and Greetings Opening Happy Hour.
6 p.m. (Keating): FST Improv
7 p.m. (Keating): Parallelogramophonograph
7 p.m. (Goldstein): ImprovBoston
8 p.m. (Keating): Dad's Garage
8 p.m. (Goldstein): Speechless
8 p.m. (Gompertz): Impro Theatre - HEADLINER
9 p.m. (Keating): Available Cupholders
9 p.m. (Goldstein): Stacked
10 p.m. (Keating): North Coast Improv
Saturday, July 16
11 a.m. (Bowne): Zap! Bang! Pow! An Improvised Superhero Adventure
5 p.m. (Keating): Dad’s Garage
5 p.m. (Goldstein): When X Meets Y
6 p.m. (Keating): Big Bang
6 p.m. (Goldstein): Parallelogramophonograph
7 p.m. (Keating): Available Cupholders
7 p.m. (Goldstein): STACKED
8 p.m. (Keating): SAK Comedy Lab
8 p.m. (Goldstein): ImprovBoston
9 p.m. (Gompertz): Impro Theatre– HEADLINER
10:30 p.m. (Gompertz): All Play
Closing Night Party (Green Room)