Bent Theater to perform at Carysbrook

By Page H. Gifford

Improvisation is an unscripted spontaneous, think-fast-on-your-feet, surprising, creative theater exercise in ad-libbing. Anyone who has ever done it knows there are hilarious and unexpected moments when creating onstage, comparing it to a high-wire act without a net. Bent Theater has built a theatrical experience around improvisation (or improv as theater junkies call it) and they will be performing on April 13, at 7 p.m. at Carysbrook Performing Arts Center.

Based in Charlottesville, Bent Theater has been around since 2004. Founded by Jenn Horne after she moved here from Atlanta, where she was one of the founders of Whole World Theater. Horne is still with the company.

“Bent does a little bit of everything. Our shows are primarily short-form, in the vein of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” but we will occasionally add a long-form scene or music into our sets. We have a catalog of well over 100 games and we enjoy the variety,” said theater member Lisa Medders.

“When I think about the improv scene, I think about resilience. The benefit of improv is we require so little infrastructure to be able to do what we do, so even during the height of the pandemic, we were able to rehearse via Zoom or in parks and perform outside. We roll with the circumstances that come our way,” said Andy Davis, who teaches classes at Bent Theater.

“Nearly all of our performers were former students of our Improv 101 classes, which is our primary recruiting tool. I took Jenn’s class in 2005, and since 2009 I have been our primary educator for our 101 classes,” said Davis. “Our performance team also meets weekly for practice, and we all share the responsibility of training and workshop ideas or games that we’ve learned from other groups, classes, or books.”

He explained their standard show will have, at the very least, a series of games, with players from their cast assigned to them, and an “ask for,” which is a question for the audience to give them something to inspire them.

He adds that for certain shows, “we’ll add more exposition or stakes, like our Battle Royale shows will be framed as teams competing against each other in games, or our parody shows which we will attempt to tell the chosen story via the games we pick with certain embellishments to allow for spontaneity. Plus, we usually will put on costumes for whatever the show is, whether it is Star Wars, Pride & Prejudice, The Princess Bride, etc.

“In my opinion, one of the biggest roadblocks to success in improv is ego. When you think you know better than the audience or the host or your scene partners, you can lose track of the collaborative nature of the art,” he said. “The best improvisers are great teammates first and foremost. It’s amazing when you walk out onstage and think ‘I’m the boss’ but that doesn’t give anyone the right to steamroll the scene or your partners.”

Davis says they can’t do what they do without an audience. The audience is key to improv success.

“They are as much a part of the show as each of our cast members. We take their suggestions and do what we can to earn their laughter and create a unique moment that we get to share with them because the beauty of an improv scene is its impermanence, it exists once and then it’s gone to make way for the next scene.”

“I tell all my students, I can only give you the tools, you have to be willing to trust and be trustworthy onstage. The best improv comes from teams that can do that and we are very fortunate in Bent to have a bunch of performers who are, first and foremost, phenomenal people,” he said. “It takes a lot of guts to go onstage with no script and no safety net, but having a team that has your back and embodies that notion of  ‘I see you’re doing something weird… let’s do it together’ is just fantastic.”

For more information and tickets, visit

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