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Holiday improv 

by Michael Bowen

Improvised comedy shows have a reputation for raucous cynicism in the manner of Saturday Night Live. They're not for the Martha Stewarts among us, we assume, but the mean-spirited cynics -- those who deride anything that could be described as "sentimental" or "heart-warming." Still, Gretchen Oyster of Spokane's Blue Door Theater agrees with the suggestion that improv suits the generous moods and gift-giving of the holidays: "Improv is an extremely giving art form. As an improviser," she says, "I need to accept and further any and every offer my fellow improvisers give me. By adding details and information to their offers, I am a gift-giver."

She's aware that, among improv artists and their audiences, sometimes well-intended gifts may backfire: "Sometimes you shake a present forever, trying to rack your brain as to what's inside, and the second you rip the paper off, you're disappointed: 'Great. Thanks. More English Leather. Just what I needed.' The same is true about improv. Sometimes scenes can be completely unexpected and hilarious, and sometimes they're disappointing."

As with the content of all their skits, even the overall format of A Blue Door Christmas, the group's holiday-theme show, is still evolving. Oyster, who co-wrote the show with Mark Robbins, reports that "I originally wanted to do an hour show entitled 'Confessions of a Christmas Kringle.' I wanted somehow to weave four different characters' lives together based upon their encounters with Santa and show how they'd been traumatized by some disgruntled Claus. It seemed to require a lot of scripting, so I bagged the idea. Then I wanted to do a film noir spoof that revolved around [a detective named] Nick Saint. I can't really specify the type of bits we'll be doing for this show, because unlike last year, there aren't any scripted segments. However, I will be reading a particular Christmas story to the audience at the beginning."

As for what the Blue Door troupe does after that, well, I guess they'll just have to improvise -- ho, ho.

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