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Improv comedy group makes the audience the director

The Press
Special
August 10, 1997
by James LaPlante

 

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If you're having trouble coordinating dinner and the entertainment for a Friday night date or night out with your friends, you might want to try the Bayside Boardwalk in Oregon.

Located at 2759 Seaman Rd. the Bayside Boardwalk brings together both ideas: dinner and a show.

The evening begins around 7:30 p.m. with a three-entree buffet dinner.

About 45 minutes later, an improvisational group, "The Around the Bend Players", offer up lots of laughs for the next one and a half to two hours.

Tom Hofbauer and Mark Zink, co-creators of The Around the Bend Players, say they chose improvisational comedy as a way to better involve the audience with the action taking place on stage.

Their approach is pretty simple – and a bit risky. This is theater that is all made up on the spot. Nothing is written down or scripted. It is all based on audience suggestions. The audience is encouraged to feel free to yell things out to help guide the actors along.

Games are the focus of the fun, ranging from the actors building a machine to accomplish whatever the audience desires, to "party quirks", where several performers must act out odd personality traits supplied by the patrons while another member of the troupe attempts to guess what ails his fellow actors.

Many of the ideas for laughs are supplied by the crowd, as they try to find increasingly difficult suggestions for the actors. This is a relationship that Hofbauer enjoys.

This is about as far out on a limb as you can go," he said. "If something on stage doesn't work, the audience lets you know. It's vital comedy, that's the best way to describe it. When you are doing it, you can feel it when it's working. It is so much more different than a prepared show, and you get a closer relationship with your audience."

The crowd also appreciates this tie to the performers.

"I loved this show," said Mary White of Oregon. "This is my third time here. I was here for opening night, and opening night was good but every weekend is a different show. It's the same games, but a different show, and it gets better all the time. I'll be back here next week with new people."

Another part of what makes the act work is that it is entertainment suitable for any age or type of audience and it is performed by actors who connect with each other.

"When you're an improv troupe, you get to be like a family." Zink observed. "We wanted to build a core group so that we could become a more efficient performing machine, and I think we have definitely accomplished that."