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Will Luera portrait seatedWill Luera is a funny guy.  With a serious résumé:  Director of Improvisation at Florida Studio Theatre.  Co-creator of Healing Moments for Alzheimer’s.  Board member of multiple Sarasota-based nonprofits.   Storytelling coach.  Workplace mediator.  IT support technician.  And all of that is just under “Current Work”!

Talk to Will about his diverse portfolio of experience, however, and you’ll hear a consistent through line:  building community.

Stage entrance

Sarasotans might best recognize Will from his improv work with Florida Studio Theatre (FST).  There he performs on stage and at special events, leads classes for adults and youth, and heads up corporate trainings on a range of topics.  What that all comes down to, he’s learned, is effective communication.

“I don’t like to call myself a ‘communications coach,’ but that’s essentially what I’m doing,” Will says.  “It’s all rooted in improvisation; it’s all rooted in this idea of spontaneous thinking and collaboration.”

His interest in theater started as a hobby.  “I’m not a ‘theater person,’” Will insists.  He studied physics at Boston College and has formal training in information technology.  But in college, he wanted to do theater on the side.  And as he dabbled, he soon realized, “I was good at improv, but more importantly I was good at building the community around the improv.”

Leading an improv theater in Boston, for example, Will was able to bring together a solid community of performers, volunteers, and professionals.  “That’s been the driving force of my career,” he says.  “The performing part has been great and the teaching has been great, but it’s mostly been around community building.”

Looking for something fun to do this New Year’s Eve?  You can ring in the new year with Will and his FST Improv colleagues as they perform “Resolution Rewind,” a fast-paced show that will include audience-favorite improv games from the past year as well as personal 2023 highlights shared by the crowd.  Learn more here.

Yes, and…

Professionally, Will spent over 15 years at long-running ImprovBoston, where he still holds the title Artistic Director Emeritus.  He also started his own improv company during that time and developed other shows too.  A visitor to the annual Sarasota Improv Festival, Will was lured here permanently in 2014 (lucky for us!) by FST.  Meanwhile, he still directs another show, Big Bang Improv (physics, remember?), featuring fellow alums of the Boston comedy scene.  Do you get the sense that professional improv requires a lot of energy…?

FST 2023 Improv cast

Will and the 2023 FST improv cast

At FST, Will’s role is not just improv theater director, but more like head of the community built around the theater’s improv offerings.  At any given time, about 70 to 100 people actively participate—performers, students, volunteers.  That’s a lot of community members who can take lessons they learn through FST and apply them to other areas of their lives.

Not surprisingly, Will’s “community building” ethic is rooted in his intrinsic interest “to see people be their best selves.”  The golden rule of improv—Yes, and…—is all about setting up others on stage for success.  To Will’s mind, whenever anyone is functioning as their best self, whatever group or team they’re a part of will function better too.  Hence, FST’s improv education ranges from creative classes for tweens and teens to corporate trainings for clients big and small—think government agencies and national associations to local businesses and nonprofits.

“We have engaged Will for staff and board trainings all aimed at strengthening our relationships with one another, which impacts the entire organization and, therefore, all the individuals that we serve,” says Michelle Kapreilian, CEO of Forty Carrots Family Center.  “Learning ways to communicate more effectively, more empathetically, and more authentically has been a gift.”  The experience also amplifies the good intentions and generosity of spirit that has drawn them all together to work for bettering the lives of children and families, she adds.

Will Luera worked with the board of Forty Carrots Family Center at its retreat last year.

Another longtime partner is the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, whose annual Leadership Sarasota program brings in Will for an interactive session with each year’s class.  Cumulatively, this relationship equates to hundreds of area professionals and emerging leaders who learn to communicate a little bit better while they also learn a whole lot more about their community.

Breaking the routine

If improv started as Will’s avocation, it remains integral to many pursuits outside his “day job.”  His work with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s patients through the nonprofit Healing Moments began in Boston but has accelerated since he came to Sarasota.  Locally, he started with Aviva Senior Living and now visits several long-term care, memory-care, and independent-living facilities as well as day-program centers.  The sweet spot for these group sessions is about 30 minutes that include memory recall, story sharing, and performing a short improvised scene together.

Recently at Aravilla Sarasota, a resident was turning 98 years old, so the improvised group scene centered on planning a surprise birthday party for the WWII veteran.  After another recent session, Will learned that the participants had heard a fellow resident speak for the very first time that day.  “The fact that he was able to open up and joke—for him it was a big step,” Will says.

On the volunteer side, Will has served on the board of CreArte Latino Cultural Center for about eight years.  As a frequent and far-flung traveler for his performance work, he recognizes what a special entity CreArte Latino is for the Sarasota-Manatee region.  “There aren’t many Latin cultural centers like that,” Will says. “To give a space for the Latin voice around here is great, and very important.”

Will also serves on the board of Miss Sarasota Softball, the nearly 50-year-old recreational softball league in which his two daughters play.  When he first got involved, the families he watched games with represented a whole new community circle, one that didn’t necessarily overlap with, say, his improv community.  But the common ground of wanting their daughters to excel together at this sport led Will to quickly build bonds with other parents.  “As a board member, I’m always quick to emphasize that we’re teaching girls and young women leadership and teamwork through the sport of softball,” he says.

Will power

So, what does a multi-hyphenate entertainer, educator, and all-around community builder like Will Luera do to unwind?

Well, he had found his release valve (and yet another great community) in CrossFit training.  This was a fulfilling and personal pursuit completely removed from “work.”  But as he shared his exercise exploits on social media and in casual conversations, he connected with people who were looking for fitness encouragement without judgment.  Now, of course, “personal trainer” is yet another way Will is helping people be their best selves!

People of Impact

People of Impact is our occasional series on community members doing extraordinary things for the Sarasota region in their everyday lives.  We think more people should hear their stories.  To read past profiles, go here.

About Barancik Foundation

The Charles and Margery Barancik family has long believed in the power of philanthropy to shape our world and enrich the lives of all people. It was the expression of this belief that led them in 2014 to establish Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation—a private, family foundation located in Sarasota, Florida.

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