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This small nonprofit organization supported after school workshops teaching middle school and high school students to write and perform comedy material from 1995 until 2013.





From 1995 to 2013, The Comedy Academy (TCA) conducted creative afterschool programs in middle and high schools in Montgomery County & Prince George’s County, Maryland. The goal of the non-profit organization was to develop students’ skills and abilities in the areas of creative comedy writing, live comedy performance, and the technical aspects of theater stagecraft. The TCA programs enabled students to create and perform an original comedy revue of short plays and sketch material based on student-generated ideas. Through satire and parody, the students were given an effective way to examine the events that were important in their lives and to “respond” with their own authentic and personal voices. In photo left to right: Desean Preacher and Zack Issac performing "Extreme Sports" news spoof.



The students’ work in TCA programs attracted media attention. Feature stories appeared annually in the local GAZETTE newspapers. Additional coverage came from The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The Sentinel Newspapers and Washingtonian Magazine. In photo left to right: Sasha Brown and Amanda Ross in rehersal for the TCA comedy revue at the Randolph Road Theater in 2010.




During its 17 years, TCA programs enjoyed financial support from individuals and institutions. These included the University of Maryland’s Art Gliner Center for Humor Studies; Montgomery County Public Schools; Target; The Washington Post; the Carl M. Freeman Foundation; the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County; the Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Services Under-21 Fund; the Educational Council of Montgomery County; the Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School PTSA; and the Northwood High School PTSA. The Comedy Club program at Lee Middle School also received a three-year grant from the Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth, and Families.


TCA students Hilda Kibrom, Bertha Vargas, Naomi Langhorne

 and Ankita Gupta in rehearsal for the one-act musical NO

CHILD LEFT WHERE? AT Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in 2010.




The grants enabled TCA to bring in subject matter experts who shared their real-world experiences in writing comedy, performing comedy and working in tech support for theatrical events. Professional actor/writers advised students on their new sketches and contributed directorial ideas as shows came together.



TCA students Leah Solomon and Sara Mozersky receive guidance

from professional stage manager Kate Bagdasian as they assemble

their props plot for a TCA comedy production at Lee Middle.



The grants enabled TCA to bring in subject matter experts who shared their real-world experiences in writing comedy, performing comedy and working in tech support for theatrical events. Professional actor/writers advised students on their new sketches and contributed directorial ideas as shows came together.





Playwright & comic actor Dale Stein with

budding writer Christopher Gaines


TCA students Jennie Bagdasian, Bethany Cannon and Jessica Almonte in “The Popularity Gap” sketch at Lee Middle School



Chelsea Vanderweel, Monica Larravide, Hilda Kibrom and Hanna Gizau in rehearsal for the TCA musical NO CHILD LEFT WHERE?

Jennie Bagdasian, Marcus Bagley, Luke Campbell, Annie Drury and Matt Weaver in the TCA spoof SOL (a.k.a. STANDARDS OF LEARNING)


Those helping included comedy actor/writers Dale Stein, Steve Wanall and former TCA student Austen Villemez. After high school graduation, Austen worked with an improv comedy troop while in college. As of this writing, Dale, Steve and Austen are all continuing with their comedy careers.



Comedy writers Leah & Rachel Solomon share their

script with comedy writer-performer Austen Villemez



On the technical theater side of things, grants enabled us to bring in professional sound man, Josh Merritts to work with our young tech crew at Lee Middle. Additionally, while at Lee Middle, contributions paid for professional techies (and former TCA students) Kate Bagdasian, Jamie Mulhern and Chris Brooks to coach our lights, sound and props crews.




TCA students Leah Solomon and Sara Mozersky receive guidance from professional stage manager Kate Bagdasian as they assemble their props plot for a TCA comedy production at Lee Middle.




For several years, The Gliner Center for Humor Studies at the University of Maryland (Larry Mintz, Director) underwrote a U of MD graduate student from his American Studies Department to assist with TCA activities. In 1998 he sent us Ben Fisler who assisted at Lee Middle School. Ben also ran the Comedy Club program for us at Prince George’s County Middle School (an arts magnet school).


Ben Fisler with students Ryan Price and Rachel Solomon



When Ben left to concentrate on his Phd work, the Gliner Center sent us another grad student, the remarkable PhD-candidate Rebecca Krefting (“Beck” pictured left). Beck assisted at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School and then Northwood High School for several years (even after the funding expired.) Dr. Fisler is now an Associate Professor of Theatre at Harford Community College and Dr. Krefting is a tenured professor at Skidmore. Both provided valuable encouragement to TCA students.




Dr. Rebecca Krefing





For the first 4 years of TCA programs at Lee Middle, Lisa Levin Itté and Harry M. Bagdasian wrote for and directed TCA programs at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School. Lisa and Harry were asked by Lee MS principal, Dr. Elizabeth Glowa, to lead an after-school drama program for the students. Lisa and Harry made a counter offer: no drama, but a comedy club doing original comedy inspired by student ideas. Dr. Glowa approved the idea. Lisa and Harry knew each other from their work with the PTSA. Lisa had a bachelors in secondary education and a Masters degree in Organizational Development. She had a background in developing youth programs on the Federal and local level. A professional director and award-winning playwright. Harry M. Bagdasian was a pioneer of the Washington, DC indigenous theatre movement.                        Harry M. Bagdasian and Lisa Levin Itté



He co-founded New Playwrights’ Theatre in 1972 and led its activities for twelve years. He was one of the founders of The League of Washington Theatres, was on the founding Board of Directors of The Washington Theatre Awards Society and he wrote, directed and produced the Inaugural Helen Hayes Awards at The National Theatre in 1985. For 25 years Harry has been writing and directing special events for a wide array of clients including Arena Stage, The United States Army, The International Association of Fire Fighters, The Anti-Defamation League, AFSCME as well as other associations and trade unions. His plays have been published by Samuel French, Dramatic Publishing and Merriwether/Contemporary Drama Services. performed in theaters throughout the U.S.


Bottom line – Lisa had never written a comedy sketch in her life, but somehow, the pairing of a political activist with an experienced theatre veteran resulted in well over a hundred successful comedy sketches. At one time, they had 15 anthologies of comic material published and leased by Meriwether Publishing LTD Contemporary Drama Services. They continued working together at the computer after Lisa left the weekly TCA meetings so she could manage her family business.


These are just 6 of the many comedy anthologies of TCA-developed comedy sketches available to school around the world.

Some collections were entirely written by Harry Bagdasian or by Bagdasian and Lisa Levin Itte'.

Other anthologies were written by "Mr. B." and students. One anthology (seen above right) contained purely student-written material.


The most unique aspect of the Comedy Academy (TCA) is the worldwide accessibility of TCA scripts. They have been published and distributed by Meriwether Publishing LTD Contemporary Drama Services making this original comedy material available to schools, theaters, and youth groups around the world. Since the first publication in 1996, more than 42,500 books have been sold. To date, MPL/CDS has leased the rights to Comedy Academy material to over 4,000 schools and other venues in every state in the U.S., throughout Canada, and in such distant places as Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. That these humorous sketches, inspired by and sometimes written by local teens about contemporary issues in their lives, can translate across cultural boundaries and national borders speaks to the universality of the coming-of-age years in many regions and countries.


Over the years, the students created many comedy sketches themselves. Eighth grader Rachel Bergstein was first to write a sketch that made it through peer review and into the final production. It was a spoof of an afternoon TV talk show Rachel called THE LEAKY RAKE SHOW. The following year Rachel created more material. The titles will give you a good idea of what she was spoofing: The Blair Witches of Blackbird Pond; The Okra Winfrey TV Show; “Potter, Harry Potter;” The Home Shopping Network presents THE NEW BARBIE; and BRAVE HEART. Several were published in SHOW ME WHAT’S ON! 16 TV and Movie Parody Sketches by Harry M. Bagdasian and Rach Shaina Bergstein –published by Meriwether Publishing LTD. Contemporary Drama Services and now available from Pioneer Drama.


Rachel Shaina Bergstein backstage during a

TCA production at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School





The Solomon sisters, Leah and Rachel, as well as Sara Mozersky followed with a series of very successful sketches that were subsequently published in AMERICA’S NEXT TOP (BOY) MODEL and OTHER COMIC SKETCHES in 2007. Their newer material was included in HELL’S LIBRARY 14 Parody Sketches by Students for Students published originally by Meriwether Publishing Ltd/Contemporary Dram Services, but it is now out of print. However, Sara, Leah and Rachels’s material will soon be available to schools again. The HELL’S LIBRARY series of sketches will soon be re-released by Write Directions, LLC. That anthology included material by several other TCA students including Jennie Bagdasian, Liam Brennan, John Kilmer, Josh Rosen and Peter Walderhaug. Rachel & Leah Solomon created almost two dozen successful comedy sketches about teen life - at home and at school - as well as spoofs of TV advertisements for yoghurt and cell phones. Their “Rude Cell Phone Guy” showed up in a movie theatre, at a funeral and at a presidential debate. [Piictured above left: Laura Eisenhuth (Jess,) Laura Becker (Amy,) Katie Orr (Katlin,) Louie Rosen (Adolescent Hunter) and Rachel Solomon (Dawn) in Leah & Rachel Solomon’s, “The Sleepover.”]




Sara Mozersky ridiculed school rules in several sketches, but her greatest achievement was a three-part lampoon of THE TWILIGHT SAGA (a portion of which was offered FRESH FROM THE FUNNY FARM LOCAL LAUGHS at the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival at the Warehouse Theatre in Washington, DC.) Our publisher at the time, wouldn't put it in an anthology. The sketches pushed the edges of what was appropriate for high school students. Perhaps we will someday publish an anthology of the "more mature" material our high school writers created.



Sara Mozersky watching a TCA rehearsal at Northwood High School



When several Comedy Academy students reached high school age, they continued writing material. Leah Solomon, Liam Brennan, Josh Rosen, Peter Walderhaug and Sara Mozersky made up the core of writers creating many sketches for TCA’s comedy revues at Lee Middle, Northwood High, The Randolph Road Theatre and two shows in the Capital Fringe Festival.



TCA high school student writer-performers (L to R) John Kilmer, Peter Walderhug.

Sara Mozersky, Josh Rosen, Leah Solomon and Liam Brennan




Inspired by their work in school, several TCA veterans created a comedy group called The Suburban Myth. The principal writer for the group was student Austen Villemez. They met weekly for improv workshops and to assist Austen in honing his material. The group gave several public performances including their appearing on stage at the Catholic University’s Heartke Theater during the Playwrights’ Fourm’s Playwright Conference. Several of Austen’s sketches were collected into the last TCA anthology issued by Contemporary Drama Services CAN YOU WHINE LIKE A 5TH GRADER: 13 TV PARODY SKETCHES by Harry Bagdasian and Austen Villemez 2012. 

Pictured left: Austen Villemez in rehearsal at The Studio Theatre Austen returned to the TCA fold in 2012 to play the school principal Bryson Douche in HeHEE! or “What? It’s Not Glee?” in the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival



Josh Rosen was another TCA student who created many comedy sketches, He also wrote song parodies such as I Think of Your Brother When I Kiss You, My Invisible Friend, The SAT Song and Catholic School Dance. His sketches included College Application Obstacle Course, the game show Smells Like Cafeteria Food, and The World’s Worst Graduation Speaker.







Comedy Academy Students Josh Rosen and Ryan Price




After the Solomon sisters, the most prolific of TCA’s student writers has been Liam Brennan. He wrote his first comedy sketch when he was in 8th grade at Lee Middle. Over the next several years he continually wrote new comedy sketches for the group to perform at Lee Middle and later at Northwood High School. Several of his comic pieces were included in the TCA presentation at the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival show, FRESH FROM THE FUNNY FARM LOCAL LAUGHS at the Warehouse Theatre in Washington, DC.

Two years later Liam co-wrote the TCA entry in the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival, HeHEE! or “What” It’s Not Glee?” with Harry M. Bagdasian. That 90-minute comedy played the Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre in downtown Washington, DC and the critic from the Washington POST called it “laugh out loud funny.” As of this writing, Liam is at work writing a sequel to HeHEE! that promises to be just as irreverent and funny as the first. 


PICTURED to the left: Liam Brennan (left) and James Mott (right) fooling around instead of writing

at one of the first TCA writing workshops at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School





For the record, there were many students who had the courage to face the blank page to create something from nothing that withstood peer review and then succeeded before a live audience. The following took the challenge and enjoyed success: Diego Aguilar, Jennie Bagdasian, Conor Brennan, Liam Brennan, Rachel Shaina Bergstein, James & Cindy Cheamitru, Avery Chiasson, Ben Fisler, Christopher Gaines, Daniel Gaskill, Brian Hilenbrand, Noley Jacobs, Mattahias Kelderman, John Kilmer, Joe Livingston, Sara Mozersky, Jonah Novek, Caitlin O’Donnell, Ryan Price, Leah Solomon, Rachel Solomon, Margey Renninger, Josh Rosen, Louie Rosen, Phillip Shattan, Ashley Vanderweel, Chelsea Vanderweel, Austen Villemez, AJ Walderhaug and Peter Walderhaug. PICTURED from left to right around the table: writers Josh Rosen, Mr. B., Leah Solomon, Conor Brennan, Sara Mozersky at one of TCA’s Monday night writer’s workshops. Notice Josh brough his keyboard.





Each deserves praise for their courage to create.


Years ago, Lisa Itté reminded me of an old saying that went something like this: “aerodynamically a bumble bee should not be able to fly, but no one told the bumble bee so it flies anyway.”


With no one around to tell those students “no,” they went ahead and created something from nothing and had a fun doing it. Good times, kids, good times.




Conor Brennan back in 2012



Many former TCA writers, performers and techies returned to Lee Middle School as student volunteers to help

with TCA productions. Four are pictured here, two to each side of (center) Dr. Rebecca  Krefting: Josh Rosen,

Austen Villemez, Maryanne Weaver and James P. Mulhern, III.

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