Gainesville Improv Fest kicks off Thursday night


Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.

Thursday night, Gainesville residents await the arrival of comedians who hail from the "mecca of improv."

Chicago gets this title from Skyler Stone, co-founder of the Gainesville Improv Festival, which kicks off at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Thursday.

The festival runs through Saturday, with showtimes at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. nightly.

In its sixth year of production, GIF has a lineup more diverse than previous years, in Stone’s opinion. This year’s headliner, 3033, a Chicago-based troupe with two University of Florida alumni, is known for weekly performances at the iO Theatre. The troupe’s appearance on Saturday will mark its first outside of Chicago.

Other talent was selected from Gainesville, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach and San Francisco.

Each time slot will be filled with three improvisational acts. Over the span of the festival, 21 groups and more than 100 performers will take the stage.

Many comedians are alumni of the UF improvisational and sketch comedy group Theatre Strike Force.

"Gainesville has been the breeding ground for many great improvisers throughout the state of Florida and the U.S.," Stone said, referring to the popularity of Theatre Strike Force.

Stone mentored some of the Chicago-based performers during their studies at the iO Training Center. He also witnessed the established community of UF alumni who moved to Chicago in pursuit of improvisational training.

Chicago’s iO Training Center is famed for building much of the Saturday Night Live cast, including comedians Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mike Myers.

Andrew Knox, a current student at the iO Training Center, headed to Chicago with a career in improvisation mind. While working a 9-to-5 job, he practices comedy on the side in two troupes. He is a member of Promise Ring, comprised of three members, which is set to perform Thursday, and Fiber Octaves, an a cappella music group with seven members, that will perform Saturday.

Another member of Promise Ring and UF alumnus, Brad Berghof, knows that there is no guarantee of a career in improvisation. Still, his desire is to continue practicing and entertaining.

"We’re pretty carefree, physical and high-energy. We really just like to play make-believe," Berghof of Promise Ring’s stage style.

Knox said his most memorable performances with Promise Ring come from the group’s strongest physical performances. There is technical stuff involved, but the core of the performance is having fun.

"Improv allows you to create different worlds and explore different ideas and it is all started by a simple suggestion from someone else. Once it is done it will never be created again, thus making every experience unique," Skyler said of the comedy form.

Knox anticipates a crowd of Gators this weekend. Last year GIF brought in over 800 guests.

Since the audiences contribute to the performances, they will have the opportunity to watch their ideas turned into Fiber Octaves’ comedic and musical interpretation.

Jeff Quintana, a member of Fiber Octaves and Chicago resident, said he misses the comedy community in Gainesville. He has helped with the show and performed for the past five years.

As in the past, GIF will offer improvisational comedy workshops taught by the headlining group, 3033. Quintana will be in attendance because, even as an experienced performer, there are always new methods to learn.

The workshops will be held on Saturday and the cost is $30 for one session and $50 for two sessions.

Tickets to the Gainesville Improv Festival can be purchased at the box office or by phone at 392-ARTS and 800-905-ARTS. They may also be purchased through Ticketmaster.com. Ticket prices range from $7 to $13.

Additional information regarding the workshops and performances can be found at www.gainesvilleimprov.com/.

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