by Angela Johnson
It's not stand-up, scripted or subtle. But it is spontaneous, and it's provocatively funny, the new-to-Spokane brand of humor from SpoComedy -- a new competitive improvisational group housed in the old Magic Lantern Theater.
SpoComedy's General Manager Kasey Christie says obtaining the historic landmark for his group was serendipity.
"I stumbled across it," Christie says. He was eating at Europa -- the restaurant in the same building -- when he saw the "for rent" sign at the theater.
Christie had been looking for a location where he could start performances with the improvisational comedy troupe for a while, but he found many places to be too big or too expensive. At the Magic Lantern, shows begin on Saturday and will run every week.
"I really wanted the theater atmosphere," he says.
The Magic Lantern met his expectations. The history of the building and the intimate feel made it a good fit. SpoComedy will be using just one of the theaters in the Magic Lantern.
Christie, a patent attorney, runs the group with Kevin Bradshaw, a theater professor at Gonzaga University.
"I've been doing ComedySportz since 1989," says Bradshaw, who even wrote his dissertation on the subject.
A third partner, Patrick Short, is the owner of ComedySportz in Portland, where Christie got his improvisational start about six years ago. It is a national organization and only one of many existing improvisational groups.
"Our show is an off-shoot of ComedySportz," Bradshaw says, adding that SpoComedy is designed to have more of a local feel and that the format is unique.
"What we do here is impossible to explain," Christie says. However, he is hoping word of mouth will get people coming to performances.
"We have a referee, and we have teams," says Darren Meekin, an intern with the group. "We challenge each other to games."
The group has more than 150 games and scenes. The mock competition has seven rounds of eight to 10 games.
If you've seen Whose Line is it Anyway? then you have a concept of what SpoComedy is about. It is unrehearsed, interactive, high-energy entertainment intended for the whole family. In fact, inappropriate behavior from the audience or the players results in a brown bag foul, where that person must wear a paper sack on his or her head for the duration of the game. They say it's something of a challenge to keep the comedy clean.
"When you walk in there, you are going into a sports show," Bradshaw says.
Right now, there are 14 interns performing in the group. The interns were recruited into a workshop that began in March, where they learned the different games and practiced them. Many of the performers attend Gonzaga and were a part of GUTS (Gonzaga University Theater Sports). From the workshops, SpoComedy picks the players. Workshops for the public will be offered at a later date.
"Right off the bat, there was a lot of trust," says Mary Stiller, a Gonzaga graduate and intern with the group. She adds that people do not necessarily need a theater background to do improvisation. "It's goofing off with your friends."
Rick Schreiber, another intern, is majoring in Spanish and international relations at Gonzaga. "Improv is all day, every day," he says.
Both performers agree the show depends on the audience and dismiss the notion of cues between players and planted audience members to enhance the show. The audience will never see the same performance twice because it is made up as they go.
Another intern, Rick Steadman, used to work for the Magic Lantern Theater as a projectionist when movies were still being shown there several years ago. When SpoComedy rented the space, he and the other members had to clean up about three years worth of dust, he says.
The theater is now clean and ready for guests. "Any true Spokanite has to love this place," Steadman says.
SpoComedy runs every Saturday beginning
June 9, at 8:30 pm, in the Magic Lantern Theater, 123 S. Wall St. Tickets: $8; $7 with a can of
food for the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Call 994-0536 or visit www.spocomedy.com.