There is something hidden away here in Florida not many know about, not even local residents. It is a treasure tucked away, and chances are if you don’t have an inside source, you probably won’t know it exists. The thing is that it’s not some huge secret. There is no password protection at the door to allow entrance. The gig is simply a small group of actors serving up laughter and cheer to family, friends, and anyone who wishes to join. I’m talking about the Manna Coffeehouse Improv Show, a gem tucked away in the bowels of Floridian suburbia.
When attending a Manna Coffeehouse performance you are guaranteed to see something new, something hilarious, and definitely something strange. The best part? It’s always different! Take it from a regular, monotony is not in their vocabulary, and boring may as well take a hike to another planet. You never know what’s going to happen. Not even the actors can guarantee anything. It’s a show built upon spontaneity, as any good performance should promise.
However, what makes this show different from all of the rest is the intimacy felt between the performers and the audience. There is an interaction between both that makes everyone feel as though they are merely hanging out with friends on a Friday night.
The show is held at Harbor Life church, in a venue that is the size of a large living room. As you walk through the doors, the overwhelming sense of friendliness hits you, and suddenly you feel as though you have a second home. The room is dimly lit with rows of candles placed upon each table. Big, comfy couches beckon you (if you arrive early enough) to plop down and make yourself cozy. The chatter of a packed house fills the room, and the jazzy sounds of the house band, properly named “House Dressing” is sure to relieve any built up stress. Though you may try to resist, the coffee bar is only feet away, and you can’t help but hit it for some quality caffeine and homemade treats. Trust me, resistance is futile. For those of you dieting, you may as well make this your one cheat day!
Since 2010, the Manna crew has been serving up laughter to a rather steady audience (consisting of all age groups), on the first Friday of every month. The cast, led by Josh Armstrong, consists of an array of unique individuals all quick witted and capable of making you pee your pants. One of the great things about the Manna is that it’s not the actors’ day jobs. I mean, Armstrong is actually a really awesome history teacher at Tarpon Springs High School who moonlights as an improv artist! How cool is that?
What I’m saying here, is it’s a side gig for most of them, which makes the easy going atmosphere all the more potent. It allows them to get up there, do their thing, and simply have fun. They aren’t out there to gain fame, or to become the next big thing in the comedic or acting world. They are simply there for the enjoyment of making people laugh, and getting to do what they love.
And laugh you will. The show takes on the comedic style of the popular television program, “Whose Line Is It Anyway”, introducing a wide list of scenes that are all prompted, but never scripted. Some of the most popular skits are titled, “Human Puppets”, where two audience members must get behind the actors and control their every move, “Sounds Like a Song”, a hysterical skit that forces the actors to turn the line of choice into a musical number, and “Emotional Roller Coaster”, where someone stands by and shouts emotions to the actors who must apply them accordingly to the scene at hand.
And if you think you are merely going to sit in the background as a spectator, you are so wrong. The whole point of this being an intimate experience is to gain audience interaction. Throughout the night, Mr. Armstrong will introduce a skit and ask the audience for a “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, and “Why”. And this, my friends, is where the weirdness comes in. But it’s okay, they like weird. They need, crave, and feed off of weird. Otherwise it isn’t funny! You’ll hear tons of off the wall ideas such as “Miley Cyrus visiting a mall Santa paired with a T-Rex”, or “Dancing weasels being returned to stores because they don’t dance”.
Yep, like I said, weird.
It’s the first Friday of every month (unless otherwise specified), and starts at 8pm and runs until about 10:30pm. Throughout the course of the night there are three short intermissions in between sets where guests can grab a bite to eat or run to the bathroom. That way you aren’t rolling around laughing with an exploding bladder! The venue is located as an extension of Harbor Life Church in Safety Harbor. There is a three dollar cover charge, and all proceeds go as donations to the church.
So if you’re looking for something new to do in the Tampa Bay area, heading over to Manna couldn’t hurt! I must warn you: it’s addicting. You will find yourself marking on your calendar, or in your phone (however which way you roll), when the next show is happening. It’s a good little pick me up, especially if you have had a hard week, or a hard month. Sure enough, you will be rejoicing on those Friday nights when you know you are guaranteed a laugh.
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