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An Amateur Writer in a City of Professionals

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New York is a city of ambitious artists who have come here to pursue dreams – from acting to singing to writing. Although opportunities exist for both professionals and amateurs, the competition is steep. To turn those opportunities into a paying job, preparation, either with a private coach or in a class, is a must. For the aspiring writer there are a number of classes available in New York and, if you’ve ever considered taking one, you know how daunting it is to figure out which is the best for you. Probably one of the best places to start developing one’s writing career is at The People’s Improv Theater.

The People’s Improv Theater (the “PIT”) is located in Chelsea and is best known as a training ground for improv comedians. While the PIT not as well known as the industry standard-bearer Upright Citizens Brigade (“UCB”), from where more celebrities hail, its improv classes are easier to get into, and don’t fill up within minutes of being posted online. While most students study at the PIT for improv, the PIT also offers writing classes for aspiring sketch writers, screenwriters, and television writers.

snlpalinComedy sketches are the skits you see on Saturday Night Live (“SNL”) and there are many groups throughout the city that write, direct, and perform their own sketch shows. If you are interested in giving sketch a shot, it’s not a bad idea to check out a show first. The PIT and UCB are both great venues to see the best in sketch comedy. Schedules can be found on their websites (http://thepit-nyc.com/ and http://newyork.ucbtheatre.com/, respectively).

The PIT offers a three level sketch program, and advises students to take them in order. Levels One and Two are strictly writing classes and require no acting – a blessing or a curse, depending on who you are. The focus is on understanding the structure of sketches, presenting them to your classmates, and re-working and improving your writing. The Level Three class involves sketch comedy acting, culminating in a performance at the PIT. Aside from providing a way to learn the rules and mechanics behind sketch writing, these classes are also a great way to meet like-minded people, potential writing partners, and possibly even future sketch group members.

The PIT also offers a “Professional Writing” program, which includes classes in writing screenplays, sitcoms, and variety shows. The goal of the screenwriting class is to create an outline of a screenplay. This is a great class for both the novice and the seasoned screenwriter; it’s about the basics of storyline, characters, and structure. The class is collaborative and each student’s screenplay and ideas benefit from the other students’ insight. The class meets for six-three hour sessions and costs $360, a good deal if you are not ready to invest a lot of time or money. The sitcom writing class aims to have you complete a working spec script in just six weeks.

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Often the best practitioners are also the best teachers, and the instructors at the PIT are successful, working writers. For example, a class in Writing for the Colbert Report is taught by the head writer of the Colbert Report. Likewise, Writing for SNL is taught by the guy who founded the PIT and used to write for SNL himself. The help and advice they are able to offer is invaluable, insightful, and based on genuine experience.

If you are in market for comedy writing, the PIT is a wise option. It’s a relative bargain, with established instructors and a wide variety of classes that are aimed at helping you get into the real world of writing. Check out the website www.thepit-nyc.com for a full listing of current classes and for their schedule of sketch comedy shows.

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