Gainesville Improv Festival even stronger after eight years


Chicago’s Mission IMPROVable is one of two headliners from the Windy City at this year’s Gainesville Improv Festival, which has performances tonight at High Dive and on Friday and Saturday at the Phillips Center’s Squitieri Studio Theatre. (Courtesy of Mission IMPROVable)

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.

The Gainesville Improv Festival has gone through quite an evolution since its inception in 2005.

Facts

Gainesville Improv Festival

What: Annual event featuring nationally known and local improvisational troupes
Today: 8 and 10 p.m. at High Dive, 210 SW Second Ave.
Friday-Saturday: 8 and 10 p.m. at Squitieri Studio Theatre, Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road.
Tickets: $8 general admission, $6 students for today; $13 general admission, $8 students Saturday and Sunday.
Info: 392-2787, Ticketmaster.com

“We had it at three different venues, all over the place,” says Tom O’Donnell, a co-founder of the festival. “One of them was a karate dojo.”

Eight years later, the festival has moved to High Dive and the Phillips Center’s Squitieri Studio Theatre, with 24 groups performing at the four-day improvisational comedy fiesta, which began Wednesday and continues through Saturday.

Although many of this year’s ensembles still hail from Florida, nine of them also come from Chicago, which has a thriving improv scene. However, word about the festival has spread even farther this time around.

“We’ve had submissions this year from Pennyslvania and Los Angeles, and that’s never happened before,” O’Donnell says. “It’s amazing to see where people are coming from and the volume of applications that has increased.”

O’Donnell and Skyler Stone, alumni of Theatre Strike Force, the University of Florida’s improv troupe, created the festival to share the culture and traditions of the vibrant Gainesville improvisation scene with the rest of the national improv community, according to the festival’s website.

This year’s headliners, hailing from the Windy City, are Mission IMPROVable and 3033, which perform Friday and Saturday, respectively.

As its name suggests, Mission IMPROVable takes a unique approach to improvisation.

“We like to call ourselves the secret agents of comedy,” says Drew Korb, a former member who is now a booking agent for the group.

With a humorous take on the “Mission: Impossible” films, members wear white shirts, black ties and black pants to achieve the look. Because of their uniforms, audiences question whether they’re actually watching the Geek Squad or Mormon missionaries perform, Korb says.

In the style of the short-form improv0comedy TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” they take suggestions from audience members to find inspiration for sketches.

“The audience is the driving factor, and they’re in on the joke,” says Korb, who also is a Theatre Strike Force alumnus. “It’s craziness. There’s that sense of fear and failure that makes it exciting.”

The group 3033 has been entertaining crowds for about five years and is making its third trip to the Gainesville Improv Festival with this week’s appearance.

Danny Mora, a 3033 member and Theatre Strike Force alumnus who graduated in the mid-’90s, is excited to be able to spend more time around his alma mater.

“In the past we had a very intense schedule time, so we didn’t get to sit and relax,” he says. “Now we have an extra day. It’s great to walk around [UF’s] campus and see what’s changed.”

Among other new acts this year is Annoyance Theatre, one of the three biggest improv groups in Chicago, according to O’Donnell, and a troupe that’s also known for being “a little edgy and dirty.”

“These are some of the most fearless guys I’ve seen doing improv,” he says.

Theatre Strike Force’s role in the festival continues to be prominent, since many of the professional groups have TSF alumni in them, O’Donnell says.

“These people go off and start forming their own improv groups. They love Gainesville so much that they come back and bring their friends,” he says.

For more information and a complete schedule of performances, see www.gainesvilleimprov.com.

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