Gainesville Improv Festival to bring laughs through the weekend

By and on February 21st, 2013

Don’t think.

When the lights go up on stage and the performance is about to start, it’s best to stop thinking.

Devin Lee said you really know you’re enjoying a scene when you’re not thinking about it.

Lee, a member of the Delta Group, will perform Thursday night at Gainesville’s Improv Festival. The festival will begin on Wednesday and Thursday night at High Dive, located at 210 SW Second Ave, and will move to the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Friday and Saturday.

Lee and his group’s improv routine is one of 24 acts during the four-day festival.

Tom O’Donnell, an executive producer of the show, said there will be six shows each night, three starting at 8 p.m. and three starting at 10 p.m.

O’Donnell said he wants the festival to highlight local talent and also showcase groups from other areas.

“We also have several groups from outside Gainesville that represent the whole country,” he said, “and they’re coming to town to perform.”

Some of the groups are traveling from as far as Chicago and Los Angeles, O’Donnell said. Others are coming from Palm Beach and Jacksonville.

Tickets are available at the door, O’Donnell said, and cost $8 for the general public and $6 for students for Wednesday and Thursday night’s shows.

O’Donnell said the goal of the festival is to entertain.

“We wanted to make sure the rest of the country knew how great Gainesville is,” he said. “Most people don’t realize we also have a fantastic comedy scene, so that’s the point.”

Lee, an advertising sophomore at the University of Florida, feels the city’s love for improv.

“Gainesville is the most supportive place I’ve ever done improv,” the 20-year-old said.

Charlie Mitchell, an assistant professor at the University of Florida who teaches advanced improvisation, agrees about Gainesville’s improv scene.

He said his students are constantly practicing and rehearsing for shows like the festival, treating performing like a muscle that must be stretched and worked.

“It may seem odd to be so serious about something so comedic, but you have to take comedy seriously for it to go well,” Mitchell, who has been teaching improv for seven years, said.

O’Donnell said during the shows, the performers will ask the audience for suggestions and from those suggestions, create a performance on the spot.

“Improv is not standup comedy,” he added.

Mitchell said the only rule of improv is to never negate. You have to accept the reality your scene partner offers you and then add to it.

“All you need for an improv is some kind of inspiration,” he said.

Although O’Donnell said he would like the whole country to attend the festival, he expects about 180 to 200 attendees for each show.

He said audiences will see different performers this year.

“They could expect to have their minds blown with amazing funniness,” O’Donnell said.

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