FACETIME- Funny girl: Horne brings improv to town

Lots of people love their work, but few can make the same claim as Jennifer Horne, founder of the Bent Theatre Company (formerly Whole World Theatre Charlottesville).

"People pay to make me laugh," she says with a touch of wonder. "It's awesome."

Since February, Horne has been teaching improv classes for adults, teens, and children in a space above Sylvia's pizza on the Downtown Mall.

The classes are open to all levels, and Horne says people don't need to be class-clown types to have fun and succeed at improv.

"Sometimes the people who think they're not funny are the absolute best," she says.

In addition to weekly classes, Horne offers a two-hour improv "jam session" and every Thursday night, Horne and her troupe put on a show at Garden of Sheba restaurant next door to the old Live Arts space (show and class schedules are at www.benttheatre.com). Teens perform Saturday in the old Live Arts Space, and the turnout for those shows has been growing.

"We had a crowd of 100 recently," she says. "I think it's finally catching on."

It certainly caught on in Atlanta, where Horne and her then-husband, David Webster, launched the original Whole World Theatre in 1994.

Over the next five years, the duo added classes and shows and even did a local television show for Turner South Network.

In 2001, with their two-year-old daughter, Zoe, in tow, the couple moved to Hawaii, where they started another Whole World Theatre branch on the island of Kauai.

That, says Horne, was a tougher sell.

"Most people," she explains, "want to see hula shows in Hawaii, not improv."

Webster and Horne's marriage ended two-and-a -half years ago, but they both moved to Charlottesville, which Horne says seemed like an arts- and child-friendly city. (Webster and Horne had a second child, Bear, in 2003.)

Though she admits getting the theatre company launched hasn't been easy, she says the momentum seems to be building. One important factor for long-term success, she believes, is having a space of her own– something that may happen if she can work out the details of a lease in former Frank Ix textile building a few blocks to the south.

That building's owner, Gabe Silverman– who met Horne at her improv show– says he's trying to find a dance business with which she could share a space to help reduce the rent.

Though Live Arts and other theater companies in the area have plenty of theatrical presentations, Silverman says, Horne's business offers something extra.

"She's giving both kids and adults a chance to express themselves in a whole different way," he says.

Jennifer Horne