Art Nov '17

Spitfire Theater: A Celebration of the Art of Improv

Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.

Much attention has been given to the renaissance of the arts in St. Petersburg, but the focus has mostly been on visual media, such as the colorful murals around town. However, one could argue that the performing arts are also making a striking, creative contribution to our city, and nowhere is this more apparent than at Spitfire Theater.

Since it opened just one year ago, Spitfire represents the only theater in the area dedicated 100% to the art of improvisation. Whether you are interested in improv as a spectator, or have always dreamed of trying it yourself, you can find something to love at Spitfire.

Left to Right: Zach Mouriz, Jay Revis, Zach Howard, Megan Carty, Pat Connelly, Carly Lehman, Kacey Cleveland, Paul Paul, Mike McNeil, Megan Ramsey, Lee Mengers, Carolyn Ramsey & Sammy Pontello. Photos by Kelly Nash Photography.
Left to Right: Zach Mouriz, Jay Revis, Zach Howard, Megan Carty, Pat Connelly, Carly Lehman, Kacey Cleveland, Paul Paul,
Mike McNeil, Megan Ramsey, Lee Mengers, Carolyn Ramsey & Sammy Pontello. Photos by Kelly Nash Photography.

A Place to Learn

This theater isn’t a place where only seasoned actors take the stage, and that’s the beauty of it. Spitfire is primarily a forum for learning. There is no permanent in-house troupe; rather, performers make their way to the stage as students of the art. This community model is based The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas, and as students take classes to learn the different styles of improv, they are encouraged to audition and perform in Spitfire’s various shows.

While some people may find the idea of getting up on stage without a script a little bit intimidating, Spitfire Theater has created a community in which it’s exhilarating and empowering to explore and showcase newly developing talents. In fact, the theater’s organizers believe that the most compelling theater happens when performers feel safe and comfortable in their surroundings.

Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.
Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.

Nicholas Riggs, Spitfire’s artistic director, said: “The creativity in improv lies in feeling support from fellow players, and knowing that it’s OK to take a risk. As we say, there are no mistakes in improv, just opportunities for new ideas.”

As students take classes together, they are guided by experienced instructors through the various styles of improvisational comedy, from short improv games—think Whose Line is it, Anyway?—to long-form or narrative improv (a.k.a. Chicago style), and everything in between. While they learn, not only do their skills and confidence grow, but so does a sense of group identity. They succeed together, and when things don’t go quite as planned, they experience that feeling together, as well.

“When they are first learning to do improv, we teach our students that it’s OK to ‘fail’ with style, pride and acceptance,” Riggs said.

Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.
Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.

For example, in the very beginning, Spitfire teaches an exercise called the “Failure Bow”, which gives students permission to take risks and find the funny moments together without the fear of failure stifling their creativity. If a scene they are working on in class “tanks”, so to speak, a student may choose to take a bow and exclaim, “I’ve failed!” Then, after the fellow students and teachers applaud the effort, they discuss what they liked about the scene, and what they could try differently next time. By celebrating these moments in class as a learning experience, Spitfire helps to build up the players’ comfort level and give them confidence when it is time to perform in front of a live audience.

In addition to learning to perform improv, students also get to play around with the stage technology, learning to operate lighting and sound equipment. This technical knowledge can also turn creative—if a performer seems stuck onstage, the crew can give him a prompt by changing up the lights. It also works the other way around; as the scene evolves in tone or content, the music and lighting are adjusted, on the fly, to match the mood the actors are trying to evoke.

A Place to Laugh

Audience members witness a beautiful dance between the actors and stage crew, who are all in this together, learning and growing as performers and comedy artists. Plus, the actors feed off the audience’s energy, and vice versa. It’s a wonderful, intimate experience that changes nightly—you never know what to expect, which always makes it fun and exciting to attend a show at Spitfire, no matter how many times you have been there.

Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.
Spitfire Theater. Photo by Kelly Nash Photography.

If you are looking for a night out and some laughs, Spitfire has several different types of performances you can check out on any given week. Every Friday at 8 p.m., it’s The Duo Show, when more than a dozen comedy pairings take the stage. Saturday nights at 8 p.m. features Whose Line, St. Pete, a short-form comedy competition. Following both nights, at 9:30 p.m., is the Spitfire Open, where improv teams compete in a tournament, which will culminate in a $1,500 cash prize for the winning team at the end of the theater season.

Or, come out to one of their 2 upcoming holiday shows – Very Misfortunate Christmas, an improvised murder mystery on Friday, Dec. 22nd at 8:00 p.m. and Spirit of Christmas Show, an improv comedy competition for a ridiculously large chocolate Santa on Saturday, Dec. 23rd at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10. The proceeds will be donated to St. Pete Pride as part of Spitfire’s #GiveBack weekend. To see the entire lineup of shows or purchase tickets, visit www.spitfiretheater.com.

For those who want to join the Spitfire community as a student/ performer, registration for classes beginning in January of 2018 is NOW OPEN. Reserve your space today and enjoy major discounts. To learn more and sign up, visit the website for all the details.

Spitfire Theater is located at 14 18th St. S. Call 727-329-6290 with any questions. For more information visit, spitfiretheater.com. Be sure to check out a show, and maybe we will see YOU up on stage someday soon.

1 Comment
  1. Germaine Marshall 7 days ago
    Reply

    Excellent article. Very comprehensive. The shows are original and well executed. Thanks for composing such a positive article and promoting improv theater as an art form in Tampa Bay.

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