The Sarasota Improv Festival: 10 Years. No Joke!

by Lydia Baxter

Fans of comedy, spontaneity, and quick wit will flock to FST’s campus this July for the 10th Anniversary Sarasota Improv Festival.

Founded in 2009, the first Sarasota Improv Festival was actually meant to be a one-time-only event. It took place in just one venue—FST’s Goldstein Cabaret—and featured 39 performers over the course of 2 days. There were only 12 groups that year, and 3 of them were local. The air conditioner actually gave out at about 9PM each night, and audiences really sweated it out. There technically wasn’t even an after party….although everyone did eventually end up at the same local bar.

This year, the 10th Anniversary Sarasota Improv Festival will bring together over 75 of the top improvisers from as far as Atlanta, Chicago, LA, France, Spain, and beyond, for 28 back-to-back performances and 16 workshops during 3 days of festivities. After a decade of growth and transformation, the Sarasota Improv Festival has become the pinnacle festival of its kind in the Southeast United States.

“I am very proud of how the Festival has become such an integral part of the Summer Arts Season in Sarasota,” said Sarasota Improv Festival Founder and FST Managing Director Rebecca Hopkins. “It has introduced Sarasota to the very best artists in the art form from around the country, and now the world. It has become an important part of the Improv field nationally, and has put not only Sarasota, but Florida as a whole, on the map within the industry.”

In honor of the Festival’s 10th Anniversary, there will be three headliners this year. Los Angeles’ Impro Theatre, Spain’s Impromadrid, and Chicago’s Baby Wants Candy will perform completely improvised plays and musicals that showcase the groups’ quick thinking, knowledge of theatre, and musical savvy. These three comedy ensembles were absolute crowd pleasers when last seen in Sarasota in 2015 and 2016, which was all the more reason for the Festival’s curators to bring them back for this milestone event.

Headlining the first night is Impro Theatre, a Los Angeles-based group that improvises full-length plays in the style of the world’s greatest playwrights, authors, and composers. Stage and Cinema says, “Watching Impro Theatre make up plays is like watching Cirque du Soleil perform acrobatics — a feat that expands the definition of human potential.”

Headlining Friday, July 13 is Impromadrid from Spain who will be performing for us in English. One of Europe’s most renowned improvisational groups, the cast members of Impromadrid have rock-star reputations wherever they go. Spanish news source El Destilador Cultural calls Impromadrid “One of the best improvisational companies in Madrid, if not all of Spain.” In the past they’ve incorporated live rock bands, live visual animators, and professional dancers into their performances. At this year’s Sarasota Improv Festival, they’re sure to bring their A game.

Saturday’s headliner is Baby Wants Candy, an in-demand comedy ensemble based in Chicago that also has casts performing in New York City and Los Angeles. A favorite with audiences and critics alike, Baby Wants Candy has traveled from New York to Singapore to Edinburgh, bringing improvised musicals to thousands of fans and inspiring countless guffaws along the way. The musicals are inspired by audience suggestions, and oftentimes include choreography, but always hilarious comedy. The group has aided the careers of SNL’s Aidy Bryan, 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer and The Colbert Report’s Peter Gwinn.

Adding a little extra international flavor to this year’s Fest is La Carpe Haute, a highly physical improv group coming all the way from Strasbourg, France. Like Impromadrid, La Carpe Haute will also be performing in English.

Some groups, like Dad’s Garage (Atlanta, GA) and Available Cupholders (Austin, TX), have become staples of the Festival, never missing a year. Others are completely new, like Orange Tuxedo, a husband and wife improv team based in LA.

If you’re interested in learning the techniques these world-class improvisers use onstage, you’re in luck! During the day on Saturday, July 14, almost every improv group will lead a workshop, teaching everything from how to listen to your scene partners to integrating status and space work into your performances. With workshop titles like “Improvise like a Married Couple” led by Orange Tuxedo, “Caring About Stuff” led by Dad’s Garage, and “Fresh Out of the Womb” led by Square One Improv, you know you’re in for an experience that is both wildly fun and memorable.

Whether you’re in the mood for a hip-hop musical created on the spot by North Coast Improv, or selected members of each comedy troupe going head-to-head, there is something at Sarasota’s 10th Annual Improv Festival for everyone.

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