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Around the Bend keeps Toledo laughing

Commercial Advantage
February 2000





What do you get when you mix seven talented people and a room full of contented diners?

An evening that is guaranteed to be unique, entertaining, and lots of fun. That is, if that company of seven happens to be The Around the Bend Players, Toledo's very own original improvisational comedy troupe.

Organized a year and a half ago by Tom Hofbauer and his writing partner, Mark Zink, the troupe debuted its improvisational comedy sketches at the Bay Side Boardwalk. The following September, the troupe began entertaining on Saturday evenings on the second floor of the Board Room, 233 N. Huron St.

"One of our actors, Mary Sobecki, suggested this would be a good venue, stopped in, and talked to restaurant owner, Kameel Ansara, who agreed. "This turned out to be a perfect fit for all of us," he noted.

Hofbauer said show guests come for dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the shows starts about 8 p.m. and lasts for an hour and a half.

"We do between 25 and 30 "games" each show depending on the audience," Hofbauer said. He likened those games to the sketches seen on the ABC TV show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" hosted by Drew Carey.

"Each show is completely different and none of us know exactly what will happen on any given night. That is the challenge and the fun of doing improv," Hofbauer explained.

He said the audience plays a major role in setting the tone for the evening. While he sets the order of the games and the participants, suggestions from the audience are requested for certain parts of the games. "We all may know the format for a particular evening," he explained, "but we never know what the audience is going to suggest."

Hofbauer said any risque suggestion from the audience is turned around. "Our shows are suitable for the entire family," Hofbauer stated. "The actors make it their job to take a really bad suggestion and turn it into something else. I am constantly awed by all of the creative thinking that transpires during our shows. It is amazing to be to see what the actors can come up with," he continued.

"But that is the allure of improv," he added. "Improv puts us out on a limb. If something doesn't work, we know right away and so does the audience. Improv is the most scared you can get without being in any danger," he continued. "And it's exhilarating theater!"

Ms. Sobecki agrees. "I do this because it's fun," she agreed. The only female member of the troupe, Ms. Sobecki said improv was something she was born to do. "I love to be on stage and I really like this format," she explained. From time to time, she also develops an original skit that she performs during the show. "Every so often, the entire skit just pops into my head and the next thing I know, I'm performing it. This is just something I do," she noted. "Other mothers tell their children they're going to the store or to play tennis. I tell mine I'm off to do comedy."

Hofbauer and Ms. Sobecki agree that the improv cast must have a high level of trust for their fellow performers. "Improv is about trust and support." she said. "While we play every scene seriously no matter how silly it really is, we all have to be silly and be willing to look foolish," she explained.

Hofbauer, no stranger to improv, toured the comedy club circuit for four years. He also tried his hand at stand-up comedy in Los Angeles, where he and Zink spent four years working on screenplays and sit-coms.

"Mark and I decided to do our projects back home. Around the Bend was a sketch comedy we wrote and produced with local actors who all had done improv. Viola, Around the Bend Players came into being," Hofbauer noted.

Members of the troupe include Hofbauer, Sobecki, Derek Hansen, Tom Kleinert, Blaine Washington, Dave and Mark Zink.

The Around the Bend Players are available for private parties, birthday or anniversary parties, corporate meetings, office gatherings, school performances, nightclub and restaurant entertainment or any other entertaining occasion.

The troupe also offers improvisational classes or one-day workshops at the Board Room or in a location chosen by the students.