Sunday, January 21, 2018
Stage

The best things on stage this week: Sarasota Improv Festival, Puddles Pity Party

SARASOTA IMPROV FESTIVAL: BLANK! The Musical

The idea was so crazy it had to work. Get in front of an audience to perform a musical. Get there on time, sell the tickets, all of that.

The only thing you don't need is the musical. No script, no lines and no music. It's the premise on which Blank! The Musical got its start. The country's hottest improv troupe, with bases in Chicago and New York, where it's in the midst of a second off-Broadway run, is headlining this weekend's Sarasota Improv Festival. You'll even have a chance to create characters and throw out song ideas.

Just speak up (or sing out). That's how Blank! gets its material — from you. Taking the first 10 or 15 minutes to field ideas, with a goal of saying yes to almost everything, has the paradoxical effect of relaxing actors, said co-creator Mike Descoteaux.

"Every comic knows about fear of bombing," said Descoteaux, 37, who worked at Chicago's Second City Training Center and founded its music program. "That fear goes away because you have an ensemble you trust implicitly. Because there isn't a script, there is nothing to get wrong."

Don't kid yourself. All of these performers have backgrounds deep in improv and musical theater. "This is for all of us the most ambitious and the most challenging show we currently do," Descoteaux said. ImprovBoston, for which Descoteaux currently serves as artistic director, will also perform this weekend. So will Big Bang, North Coast, Parallelogramophonograph and St. Petersburg's own Hawk and Wayne.

"The Tampa Bay area has a really big improv community," said Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of Florida Studio Theatre, which hosts the festival. "They understand it, they want to see what the new people are doing and what the festival is doing, bringing in the best groups in the country."

The festivals begins at 7 p.m. Thursday and runs through Saturday at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N Palm Ave., Sarasota. Single tickets $10-$25, workshops $35, passes available. (941) 366-9000. floridastudiotheatre.org.

TOO WEIRD: PUDDLES PITY PARTY

Puddles introduced his sad, strange act to the nation in 2013, singing Lorde's Royals on Scott Bradlee's YouTube broadcast Postmodern Jukebox. Later, a recording of the 6-foot-8 clown's cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah at San Francisco's Teatro ZinZanni, a circus-themed dinner theater, also went viral.

In March, the whiteface clown with the mellifluous baritone voice impressed America's Got Talent judges with Sia's Chandelier. Now Puddles Pity Party is coming to the Palladium. Puddles might not say much (or anything), but he sure can communicate. Expect him to sing the lights out of an eclectic song list, which has included hits by David Bowie, Pink Floyd, John Lennon and Elvis Presley.

Michael Geier, the actor who created Puddles, grew up in Richmond, Va., where he stood tallest in a "houseful of giants," his website says. Two brothers and four sisters all grew to at least 6 feet tall. He lives in Atlanta now, where he fronts a band, Kingsized.

8 p.m. Thursday. 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $32.50-$47.50. (727) 823-2040. mypalladium.org.

HEATHER THEATRE: RACE

A small but seasoned law firm decides to defend an affluent white client accused of raping a black woman. So begins David Mamet's Race, running this month at the Heather Theatre. The play, which runs about 70 minutes without intermission, examines racial tensions and legal ethics.

"There's some really slick legal strategy that goes on," said Ward Smith, the Heather's artistic director, who is also directing this show. "Each side wants justice. Will they get it? Maybe not." The show stars Darren Constantine, Vincenzo Hinckley, Pierce Lackey and Sharell Nichole Williams.

Opens Friday and runs through July 29. 8313 W Hillsborough Ave., Suite 250, Tampa. $25. (727) 709-5026. heathertheatre.org.

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