SARASOTA — The Sarasota Improv Festival, a three-day event that brings in some of the biggest names in improvisational theater, kicks off Thursday at the Florida Studio Theatre.
This weekend's main attractions include the Los Angeles-based Impro Theatre, which has taken its brand of spontaneous composition and performance worldwide; ImprovBoston, a staple of late night television and fount of inspiration for acclaimed comics, producers and directors; and North Coast Improv, named one of the top 10 best comedy shows by Time Out New York.
At least two Tampa-based groups, Post Dinner Conversation and The Third Thought, expect to deliver the freshness and originality that has allowed both groups to perform in festivals along the East Coast and beyond.
The best of the best will lead more than a dozen workshops in everything from making good choices on stage to improvised songs and freestyle rapping. The festival, the result of a whim eight years ago, has turned into a national standard setter for one of the hottest forms of comedy around.
"The idea was to introduce the vastness of the art form to Sarasota," said Rebecca Hopkins, Florida Studio Theatre's managing director. "It started with 100 people. Now the best people in the country are coming to Florida."
For most of us, the idea of being shoved on stage with no lines yet expected to entertain seems like a really bad dream. So why is it that a growing ranks of performers and audiences can't get enough of it?
The answer might lie in the audacity of improv itself, a can-do kind of golden rule improv performers call, "Yes, and..."
With actors making up their story lines as they go, there isn't time to reject anyone's input. The result is freeing, Hopkins said.
"We spend our entire lives growing up being told no, which is antithetical to working collaboratively," Hopkins said. "In improv, if you say, 'No,' you're putting up a brick wall. It's the same thing in your daily life."
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