Magnet vs. PIT

Having now taken Level 1 classes at both the Magnet and PIT, I can say without hesitation: they’re both good, it just depends what you’re into.

Everyone I’ve talked to from both sides gushes about how great their respective communities are. Magnet people love the Magnet community, PIT people love the PIT community. (Everyone says the UCB community is kind of filled with dicks. I don’t know, I’m just repeating what I’ve heard.)

Both of my Level 1 classes were filled with awesome, sweet, open, enthusiastic, and naturally funny people, all with varying levels of experience. (This is luck of the draw, though.)

While UCB is known for having a very structured, rules-based philosophy, both my Magnet and PIT (Level 1) experiences were pretty touchy-feely, more about having fun, more about getting used to playing with each other, offering guidelines and advice and thoughts.

For example, the “Don’t ask questions” rule came up in both classes, and in both classes it was offered as a guideline rather than a hard rule. So when we DO find ourselves asking a question, we don’t start flagellating ourselves for being so stupid as to break a simple rule (thereby flustering both ourselves and our scene partner); instead, we just realize, “oh, whoops, I asked a question, which put my partner on the spot. I’ll add to what I just said to help them out.” And eventually we remember not to do it in the first place.

I don’t know whether I’m comparing school philosophies or just the philosophies of my individual instructors, but on the subject of teachers: I recommend both Rick Andrews at the Magnet and Bradford Jordan at the PIT. They are both phenomenally warm and encouraging and non-judgmental, which is what a lot of us need when we’re starting out. And they both give good notes. I can’t speak for other instructors.

Honestly, from my experience, I’m not sure how I would differentiate the schools, big-picture. I’ve heard that Magnet scenes are about building and focusing on relationships, but that was an underlying theme of my PIT class, too.

Because (a) the Magnet is more convenient for me (it is literally on my way home), and (b) I started at the Magnet, so my Magnet social circle has been percolating longer, I will probably continue with the Magnet for now. Nothing against the PIT. It’s just on the other side of town. And all its jams are too late at night. And they charge $10 for class shows. (But their class shows ARE on a proper stage, not a modified classroom, so they totally get points there.)

Third show’s a charm

My PIT Level 1 show was on Friday, and I don’t need to rehash it, because objectively the show overall didn’t have a lot of great points. But I felt pretty okay about it, like my particular contributions weren’t too bad. There were plllleeeeeenty of opportunities for me to kick myself later (and even during! “Robin, this scene is flagging! They need support! Do a walk-on! Or an edit! Without being a dick! Argh! How?! Where’s the opportunity??! Dammit, that would’ve been a good spot!! Fuck!!!”), but I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on a little bit of that Improv-Brain I’ve always coveted.

Level 1 vs. Level 1: What a Weird Battle

This is a conversation I’ve been having with Magnet-practice-group-type people lately:


Me: I can’t do Mondays, I’m taking that Level 1 class over at the PIT.

Them: Oh yeah, how is that?

Me: I’ve only had three classes, I dunno.

Them: Oh, okay.

Me: And I don’t know if I’d just be comparing instructors’ personal philosophies or whole philosophies of the schools.

Them: Oh, yeah, I can see that. Our Level 2 instructor was a totally different experience from Rick [the predominant Level 1 instructor at the Magnet].

Me: Yeah. I dunno.


I will say, after four classes, that my Level 1 at the PIT involves an awful lot of sitting around talking about improv and not so much actual improvising. To the instructor’s credit, I think he wants to get up and improvise more, too, but we keep asking him [often heavy or difficult] improv questions that he doesn’t want to leave unanswered.

I don’t regret taking the class. All the reasons I justified taking it in the first place are still holding true.

In our last class, we beat the shit out of a character I did, which was especially cool ‘cos we haven’t really learned “tagging out” or “beating the shit of of the game” yet. The instructor started it, and I caught his soft lob, and then the whole class got in on it, and I left class feeling all ‘Hell yeah!,’ which I mention not to be self-congratulatory but because it is not a feeling I associate with going home from improv class.

Bad stories

We spent most of our first (PIT Level 1 improv) class talking about ourselves.

Not thrilled with that. I’m naturally pretty narcissistic. I like improv (in part) because it helps get me OUT and AWAY from my own selfish obsessions, not deeper INTO them.

For one exercise, we stood up and shared stories (in preparation for a future Armando, I guess).

I don’t like telling stories. Because I don’t get out much, I don’t accumulate a lot of stories; because I don’t have a good memory, the few stories I DO accumulate fade away after a couple years.

Plus, my spoken narrative is usually terrible: I put in too many details about this part, and I leave out significant details from that part, and the whole thing is a disjointed mess.

I dunno. Everyone was telling heartfelt stories about their families. I panicked and told the class about how I don’t have a lot of connections with people, and how I was a selfish jerk who didn’t call my great aunt the week before she died.

I went home feeling like shit. (Rightly so?)

In one sense, this is a victory. Normally, when I meet new people, I pump loads of effort into being as likable as possible. Painting myself in a super-unflattering light straightaway is one way to get over that, I guess. “Be real?”

On the other hand, I foresee this becoming a pattern. From now on, I can self deprecate in front of these people without a second thought. “Oh, ha ha, well I’m a selfish asshole, remember?”  But I don’t want that to happen. I recognize the beginning of a downward spiral. (Whoa, hey, is mindfulness finally paying off?!) And geez, if I just wanted to put myself down all the time, I’d do standup or something.

Possible solution: Put that bad memory of yours to use and FORGET THIS. Next week is a fresh slate. Maybe some people, instead of being horrified at you, were touched by your frankness and humanity. Everyone fucks up sometimes, right?

Lateral move

I signed up for a(nother) Level 1 class at the PIT.

When I mention this to my improv friends, they half-smile encouragingly but are clearly a little confused. I’ve already taken Level 1 at the Magnet, and PIT is more expensive. It’s a lateral move, not upward. WTF?

Here is why I have made this apparently senseless choice:

  1. I, like many people, tend to hunker down during the cold winter months. I’ll be like, “Oh, I should do a drop-in class! …but I am SO TIRED. Mehhh, I’ll skip it.”
    I’m hoping that a structured “you-already-paid-for-this, you-have-to-be-here” class will keep me out of that vicious pattern of inaction and ensuing hermitude.
  2. My short answer to “how’d you get into improv” is “it seemed like more fun than therapy.”
    I’m only joking a little bit.
    Group therapy in NYC is ~$50-200/session. Improv class is ~$50/session, plus you have to drag yourself out to see shows (which are usually free with a student ID) and meet up with new friends. For what I need, improv seems like a better deal.
  3. I can’t imagine getting anything out of a higher level class while I’ve still got such a shaky foundation. I want to take time to solidify my basics.
  4. Time, practice, and experience are the main keys to improvement (asserts someone who has not yet put in time, practice, or experience). I can read classroom concepts out of a book. Trying to implement those concepts, and getting feedback/advice on my trials, is what’s valuable about a class. Why not skip the class and let a practice coach give me that sort of feedback? Do classes even really matter?
  5. I can only commit to Mondays. I just missed the boat on the last Magnet Monday Level 2 class, and the next Magnet Monday Level 2 class probably won’t open until February or so. This’ll keep me motivated in the meantime.
  6. Every theater, I’m told, has its own unique and beautiful philosophy, and no one is “better” than the others. Why not compare for myself?
  7. The move may only be lateral… but I moved! I made a decision! That counts for something, right?