I get a lot of questions about the two schools that I study at, and so I thought I would write about them as a reference point for any and all asking. After all, we as actors have very little money to spend, so why not be a bit informed before spending it. I think I am in an interesting place to be writing this piece, considering I have not finished either school, but am simply in the midst of doing so.
Background of Tim: At Upright Citizens Brigade, I have finished UCB 401 twice and am now in my first Advanced Study starting the first week of March. At Groundlings, I have completed Advanced Improv and have been on the wait list for Writing Lab for almost a year.
In other words, I am on the cusp of what both schools refer to as their “Performance Track”. Woo.
Below are my thoughts. They reference the main curriculum and the main shows. There are dozens of extra classes at each school and countless shows at each theatre that feature every form of comedy imaginable. This is because of the complex backgrounds of each and every performer and teacher at the schools.
So let’s get to it. The title of the post mentions “and (but not vs.)” and I want to tackle that fact first. These schools are not in competition. After having a hunch myself, I had the great pleasure of confirming this fact with the head of the Groundlings school firsthand after a few brews at Dark Room. They offer a different product- plain and simple.
Product Offered: Curriculum
The first thing to note is that UCB specializes in long-form, and Groundlings in short-form. That info you can get from a google search. What I have come to realize is that UCB offers a tool that is in addition to your acting technique, whereas Groundlings is a tool to improve your acting technique.
Since it is in addition, you do not have to be an actor to take and love UCB’s classes, nor to be a great long-form performer. I have seen many “non-acting” writers, and even some “non-acting” non-writers, absolutely DESTROY crowds in improv shows. The skill of Acting (or Acting Training, specifically) is not always necessary. Long-form relies on truth-telling, commitment, and a simple identification of what’s funny. Longform scenes primarily contain justified dialogue as a means of adding information. UCB curriculum teaches you the aforementioned, and how to better it. That’s not to say acting doesn’t help in long-form improv; it most certainly does. The art of acting focuses much on truth-telling and commitment, and aids the long-form improviser in even more ways like spacework, dialects, character work, stage picture, etc.
Groundlings classes improve acting technique. Since Groundlings focuses on character work, their curriculum is almost necessary to the actor. Different from long form, with short form one has very little time to fully inform the audience of their point-of-view. Therefore, dialogue is only one way to add information. Spacework, emotion, stage picture, and character are the others. Without acting, a groundlings scene would be very dry and uneventful because of the lack of training in “funny-identification”. It is also important to note that Groundlings training involves a director who leads the scene or game.
Yes, games. In a Groundlings class, unlike at UCB, there are “improv games” which are important to the curriculum and training. A few that come to mind (and my faves) are:
1) Family Dinner where the audience gives the improvisers a recent event (ex: father lost job, son busted for pot, daughter wrecked family car, mother ran over dog) and the improvisers try their best not to bring it up, but rather move on with the family dinner.
2) Talk Show where the audience gives a name of a talk show, a topic, and a personality trait for the 3-panelists.
3)Genres where the director gives a genre (Shakespeare, Dickens, Sorkin, Film Noire) and the audience gives the improvisers an activity or job.
In any of the above games, the director can stop the scene and give the improvisers a new gift throughout. This, again, is exclusive to Groundlings (in this context).
My friend Johnny, drew an infographic about what we learn at Groundlings. Maybe this will help you understand. If not, you will at least know how to plan out a meth lab.
Product Offered: Performances
The performances of each are geared towards different audiences. This section should help explain why Groundlings charges $15+ on most shows and UCB charges $5-10 on all shows that are not free.
The simplest way to explain it is to say that UCB performers perform for their peers and Groundlings perform for comedy audiences.
The main UCB shows Monday through Thursday are all $5 and allow you to get in free with a student ID. Seeing these shows make you a better student and inevitably a much better performer. Because of this fact, the audiences are primarily made up of students. They’re amazing shows stress long-form technique, particularly Harold Night. Laughs come at times of hilarious dialogue, stabbing call-outs, and a breaking of the “rules” of improv. Students eat this stuff up. Non-students are less concerned as they won’t understand all the callouts and have never learned the “rules”. (Note: for “rules” of improv, look to anothers’ blog. They don’t really exist but are taught in the beginning as a foundation. I am without a doubt too amateur to try to explain anymore than this. I am an honest person. I promise.)
A Great Call for an Edit to the Above by a friend and amazing blogwriter, Caroline. Besides the $5 or free for students shows at UCB during the week, their shows can be great for a comedy audience. Specifically, their late night shows on the weekend. In fact, I have been told by multiple teachers NOT to see Shitty Jobs on Sunday nights as a student. (However, i say go to it; It’s amazing). There are other shows too that are fit for a comedy audience, thus adding to the fact that there are dozens more shows and types of comedy seen at UCB than Groundlings.
The main Groundlings shows are for comedy audiences and are priced that way. Groundlings students get 1 free ticket to each main show. Therefore, there is a clump of students in each main show, and 1 clump only. The rest is “normal folk” who are just coming for laughs. The laughs at these shows come from seeing funny characters, hearing amazing songs, and feeling fully immersed in the improvisers’ world. The audience needs no information before they come in. They find everything they need in their programs, the words of the director, and by watching the show.
Another thing to discuss is the question of who gets to perform. At UCB, there are sooooo many performers. Countless. Know somebody or be somebody or do something and you will get on their stage. Harold night offers almost 50 performers, Maude night offers 72 (36 writers/36 actors), and those numbers comprise 2 of the 7 nights they have shows. There are 30 Groundlings, 11 Sunday Company members, and they have 2-3 nights where they invite their friends/Groundlings Alum to play with them.
That said, Groundings just added a student stage- G3 which will eventually house student shows so that more than the above get to perform.
Brag Moment: I got to perform in the first show at G3.
These kids are great.
Two More Things I Think You Should Know:
There are a million and a half indie improv shows in Los Angeles. You are all an email away from performing at these. Something to note is that the improvisers here are primarily trained in Long-form at either UCB or IoWest. I perform with my pleasant crew, It Girl on the regular and I have only seen 1 team that did Groundlings work.
This does not mean that they are not welcoming of short-form. If you love it, do it. Full disclosure: I am working on a way to present short-form at an indy show because it is extremely fun for me. Until then, I am content doing long-form with occasional characters thrown in that I have developed in Groundlings classes.
There is a component of Sketch-writing at each school. At Groundlings, it is built into the program. At UCB, it is a different track. At UCB, most of their main shows (weekend and weekday) are improv. At Groundlings, their weekday shows are improv and their weekend shows are sketch with a little improv therein The Groundlings themselves do sketch/improv. The UCB itself rarely performs together- if ever. I guess Asssscat is the most “ucb-original” and it contains zero sketches. Stupid comparison. How about this comparison- At Groundlings the level below being a Groundling is Sunday Company. They perform Sketch with improv tossed in. At UCB, that same level is Harold Team (improv) and Maude Team (sketch). That works. Now, you get it.
There you have it. My comparison/contrast of the two. I sincerely hope this aids your decision if you must make one. I cannot stress how beneficial these two schools combined are for me. There is no difference in the level of talent at either a student or teacher level at these schools. If you have questions or comments, message me and I can always edit.
I have not trained at IoWest, nor Second City Hollywood, nor anywhere else. Therefore, I did not write about them. For those curious, I hear they’re great firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand. Never fourthhand.
Tagged are all my teachers.