This is the one post on my blog that gets the most replies so I figured I'd do an update on it.
Here is where I'm at with all three institutions
1) Magnet Theatre: Currently on a Magnet House Team (Heartbeat), a Magnet Musical House Team (Goats). So, I've finished both Musical and Regular improv programs. I've been on a regular house team going on 2 years and a Musical house team on and off for 3 years, roughly. I also started performing with Premiere, the friday night musical slot.
2) PIT: I was on a musical PIT team for around a year, a long time ago. They since closed off auditions for musical teams. I think every musical team is going on 2 years with no auditions. I was also on a regular PIT team for one season earlier this year.
3) UCB: I have finished the UCB improv program, through ASH. I've auditioned for the teams twice.
This is coming from a performer at Magnet, so I am biased towards them.
NOTE: You have to finish all improv classes at UCB to audition for a house team. The prereq's for UCB sketch and acting are less stringent, check out their site for info.
Difficulty: Tough!! Though they are letting more and more people through to advanced, they are still teaching game and it's tough. UCB teaches improv as if there is a right way and a wrong way. For more heady people or standups or writers, this is a good way to go. If you want to organically grow improv skills and play more and more, then this might not be a good fit, at least not yet.
Size: I have always been in a class that was sold out. Sometimes this works for people who just want to watch. If that's you, this is where to go. I like to play ALOT and if I'm sitting down for 1 hour of a 3 hour class on improv, I get depressed.
Type of People: For the most part, I've found that actors, writers, and comedians takes UCB. It's a pre-req for agents. There are lots of comedy writers that come out of UCB. If you're looking to make a career out of sketch, writing or comedy, then UCB is the way to go, but Improv should only be a part of your UCB curriculum, you want to take lots of sketch, lots of improv, and everything you can get your hands on. Even then, there is no guarantee of anything and you'll find more stories of people who have networked, interned, took tens of classes and never got anywhere. You'll also find yourself in classes with very gung-ho people which could be annoying. Sometimes in classes, students seem to be vying for attention, whether it be through as many scenes as possible, provoking a conversation with the teacher mid class, or even outright flirtation whether it be on the teachers end or the students end. Networking is networking, the most successful people know how to do it. I'm not that person, I just want to get better at improv.
Teachers: HIT or MISS. This is a constant thing about UCB, you either got good ones or bad ones. Of the few teachers I have taken, I had a 50% success rate, maybe a little less. Chelsea clarke is amazing and I'd love to work with gavin speiller, I had him for a sub for one day, he was great. The rest were okay, bordering on bad. Won't name names but sufficed to say, I was not enjoying improv. Sometimes the teacher teaches a class better than other classes. You might hear, "Oh they're better if they teach _____, they don't like teaching that class."
Recommendation: Don't expect UCB to give you anything. You have to work with as many people, network, love every moment. There are people on house teams who are amazing, there are people who have been there forever, there are people who are just beautiful, there are personalities that scream star. There is no way to tell if you're that person, but the best of the best usually make it. The only thing is, the UCB best of the best is out of THOUSANDS. Easier than the lotto.
Personally: I would still recommend people take UCB last. Specifically, improvisers who solely want to improvise. Writers, go for the gold, hit it up first. If you are even REMOTELY sensitive to early criticism, or if you get inspired enough to recognize people making incorrect moves, it can seriously stunt your play. I am of the belief you can make a scene with anyone about anything, inside or out. I can see in UCB players eyes when they think you're wrong and it's sad and disheartening. Improv is supposed to be fun and bring people together, right?
Quick Example: During a class which was a Del Close Workshop, I tagged into a scene and mislabeled the gender of the person I spoke with. My partner literally froze, desperately searched her mind for an answer and went completely silent. The teacher said, "Okay, so you've been labeled a woman now, take a deep breath and just let it happen." I got news for you all, this made me feel like an idiot. But, I got bigger news, this is a PROBLEM EVERYONE GETS INTO. Especially in a talky scene. If you have two chairs set up and nobody talked about gender and god forbid someone is the switched gender, people could be confused. If you have to tell advanced performers not to give up on a scene based on a mistake, then you are creating performers who give up or blow up at a mistake. This, I don't like. UCB for me is that hot girl in school. She'll get you all the popular stuff you kind of want, but you know you'll have to do a heck of a lot of negotiation to get it.
REWARDS: Comedy writer/actor/star
RISKS: Lots of Money, Lots of Time, Lots of Teams
NOTE: Currently, PIT does cast people who have not gone through the PIT program, however, the performers I've met have been through other programs. This includes Musical and Regular. PIT house teams audition 2 times a year. PIT musical has not auditioned for 2 years so far. Check their site for details.
Difficulty: Easy and Fun. They have a real follow the fun atmosphere. Follow the fear. There are 5 classes you have to take to be eligible for a team. There is an interesting philosophy conflict happening at pit. The classes tend to go FREE Form at the end where you can do whatever you want, making it a bit chaotic, but there are higher ups that are looking for a more realistic, non-game, but almost two-prov type slow prov. It's weird because you don't really know what people are looking for.
Size: Sometimes full, sometimes not. It's never been that much of a problem in my opinion.
Teachers: Pretty good. If we are talking Musical Improv, they used to have amazing teachers in Ashley ward and Desiree Nash. They were to die for. As for Regular Improv, it just depends. I can't make a judgement because the teachers I worked with aren't there any more. I have heard great things about the teachers that are there.
Recommendation: To the PERFORMERS, we're talking musicals, actors and writers. PIT is the place for people with IDEAS and a love of stage time! The recent unauthorized musicals have been an amazing mainstay at the pit. Constant comedic writing. I know performers who have done multiple musicals at the pit, they LOVE IT. PIT is for people who have ideas and want to do them. PIT is for people who want to work with people who put stuff up. Do you get paid? Not so much, will you perform? If you're good, you will. If you're good at networking, you can do so many shows at the pit. But, if you're looking just for improv, not musicals or one man shows or experimental improv genres, then PIT isn't quite what you'd want.
Personally: Pit rounded out my improv. It helped me work with more aggressive improvisers, more funny witty improvisers, and a different type of improviser. I would recommend it if you are going to go the gauntlet. Unfortunately, the fact that a PIT audition doesn't require PIT classes almost puts a damper on the classes themselves. If they are just looking for great improvisers, there are better classes you can take. If you had the choice between all classes in all NYC, you could make a mish mash of amazing teachers and learn improv that way. I enjoyed the few classes I took there. I also enjoyed the small stint as a performer, but there were some aspects once I was on a house team that I didn't like but that was probably because I had already been on house teams elsewhere to compare.
NOTE: Magnet requires a 6 class curriculum to graduate and you can only audition for house teams at that point. Magnet musical requires a 3 class curriculum to graduate and you can only audition after finishing.
Difficulty: Extremely easy. The earlier classes kind of get you into just having fun with improv, then they slightly hone it in to push in form. The later classes which are amazing, will try and hone the performer you are and you'll be with very experienced improvisers. The latter classes can be hard to get into but if you're taking a level 5 class, you're with people who solely want to perform on Megawatt. There's really no reason to do it otherwise. You're working with advanced players who just want to improvise.
Size: Not always full. Classes sizes stay medium size. I've never had a real talky professor, so even if it was a large class, everyone got up and did a lot of scenes.
Teachers: Amazing. I can personally recommend just about every professor. Favorites are Louis Kornfeld, Peter McNerney, Nick Kanellis, Hannah Chase, Rick Andrews, and Michael Lutton.
Recommendation: To the IMPROVISERS, if you just want to improvise or if you want to do musical improv go here. I think for MUSICAL IMPROV, it's only the Magnet at this point. They have cornered the market for teachers, classes, and shows. They even have an musical improv festival every year. If you want to get on a team and perform, just statistically your chances are much better here than UCB. With PIT, it may be similar when it comes to regular improv. As for diversity, there is more diversity on teams at Magnet. This may sound weird, but I think there are lots of people who are given the chance at Magnet to be on teams that wouldn't have been on teams elsewhere. Slower, weirder players or just interesting people end up being on house teams at the magnet. There is also a real sense of community here, the reason for that on house teams is probably because of a rotating schedule where you'll see different teams at different hours.
The BIG SIB program is just amazing. If you finished regular or musical level 3, then you can big sib the earlier classes for free. You apply for it and if you get chosen you get a free class. Great right? So, you just got to do more improv for nothing. Love it.
Personally: HUGE FAN of Magnet. I have auditioned and not got in. I've got into teams then the team got cut. I've gotten on teams that got renewed then cut. I've been on teams that just keep getting renewed. I'm also on what would be considered a weekend team for musical improv. So, I've had to fight a bit for what I've got, but i've worked for it. There is a real love for improv itself there. There are a lot of opportunities to perform with improv and sketch. In my opinion, it's small enough to feel like a family and large enough to have some healthy competition.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
If you're gung ho and got the money, do them ALL at once. You don't want to restart programs. That includes annoyance. You'll finish with a group of people from all institutions and you'll probably get on one of those teams.
If you're dipping your feet in, Magnet. You'll feel like you can do anything. Plus, there are people who come to magnet to get better at talking to people and come out of their shell. They love it, so it's a great starter.
If you've got stars in your eyes, UCB. I don't hear as many success stories or see as many writers come from elsewhere. But, it's gonna take time and money, and you need to be doing sketch as well.
If you've got an entrepreneurial creative spirit, PIT, if you've got stuff you want to do, then pitch it to pit. Does that mean you have to take classes, probably not, but PIT is great for getting people's ideas UP!
If you're an improviser who's drank the koolaid and wants to do it more and more, then Magnet is the way to go. Do PIT as a side bar and Annoyance as well. Have three auditions a year. Magnet has made me a happy person but I just want to do improv.