Teaching Philosophy

Dear Potential Student,

I will begin simply. My intention in teaching and training actors is to help you do your best work, the implication being that there exist standards in the art form. I expect you to do the creative work, and to do it to the best of your ability.

More specifically, my intention as a teacher is to have you, my student, consistently work to be an artist who demonstrates sensitivity, creativity, and a willingness to take risks. Who is alive, alert, ready to work, curious, disciplined, playful, open, and flexible. You aim to be a consummate listener, to be able to improvise fluidly from moment to moment, to have a vivid imagination, an ability and fearless willingness to access every part of yourself emotionally with courage and ease. You finish your two years of training knowing how to take a text, and turn it into behavior – authentic behavior – faithful to the playwright’s creation, and yet totally original and fresh in interpretation, without a trace of cliché. You know how to find the behavior in yourself – or you know how to employ the tools in order to create it. Be careful. The behavior must always be utterly authentic – possessing a quality of organicity, to use Grotowski’s beautiful term. You are always looking to create work that is precise and clear – this is essential.

The practical result of this is a self-sufficient artist; one who is essentially director-proof when working with an inartistic or a dictatorial director who doesn’t understand the actor’s process, and at the same time someone who is easy to work with, flexible, generous as a collaborator, willing to try a new idea – without being a puppet . You will be an artist and essential collaborator in your own right; an equal partner in the artistic conversation.

Structure and other practical elements

The structure I use in my Conservatory training is based on the work of Sanford Meisner. The curriculum is highly structured; it requires you to do extensive artistic homework, and participate in outside rehearsals between every class. This adds up to a lot of work, and starts to encourage skills and significant discipline based on repetition – a practice through which the actor starts to absorb the instinctive capacity for certain abilities which are essential for acting, as well as visceral understanding of the value and necessity of rigorous daily practice – similar to athletes, dancers, and musicians. Our work will consist of improvisation and exercise work – “scales”, as well as approach to character and the exploration of challenging texts.

The structure also invites you to enroll in Voice & Speech and Movement in order to release habitual tension, experience full release, and cultivate clarity in your acting instrument and your work in the imaginary world. You will come to understand that there is no room for pedestrian behavior in acting. The actor must have an instrument that is ready to express their humanity in the richest, most expansive ways, while being ready to take on the most challenging roles, in the most challenging scripts. I also believe it is vital to take Theatre History and Script Analysis, in order to be a well-rounded professional artist.

How Students Influence the Work

Although the structure for each year is essentially fixed, each year brings with it new challenges and surprises, because of the personalities and character of each of you, as well as the dynamic of each group, which is almost always very different. These personalities, along with the interpersonal dynamics between you as students, and us as your teachers create all kinds of new opportunities to rediscover the work in a way which respects each of your abilities, personalities, etc. and the real relationships which manifest between us all.

I aim to create an atmosphere, which is also precisely structured –where you feel safe to take risks, and where the group feels free to express itself collectively and individually. This includes the expression of sensuality, aggression, and any other behaviors, as long as the work is safely handled, either verbally or physically. This includes aggression towards and disagreement with me as your teacher – which can sometimes arise in the process. This energy to be respected and worked with, not squashed or ignored, and ultimately leads to very creative work.

The atmosphere I aim to create with the class is one where creativity can flower, one in which anything can be expressed, as long as it is expressed safely, consciously, and responsibly. This encourages you to take ownership for what you express, in the context of the class, and ultimately the world we all live in. You will learn the value of working generously and cooperatively with the rest of the group, learning from each other, making the class safe for each other. And finally, you will learn that that you can find a way to express yourself fully, and still live in the world. It also encourages you as an artist to always work creatively, on the level of metaphor and ideas – which is the realm of art, and not to settle for the ordinary or everyday.

Personal Philosophy of Art and Pedagogy

Much of what I teach is practical and artistic: I want to help you learn to act. Some of the work has to do with artistic and human values: I want to help you learn who you are, and how to interact with the world with integrity.

Sometimes the students and the moment clearly demand that our time be spent in discussion – about art, current events, love, fear, and other pressing affairs of the day. In those times, I try to make space for everyone to participate, offer my own thoughts and feelings where and when appropriate. There are certain things I do say, and without hesitation. I encourage you to see as much art as you can – not only plays and films, but also fine art, dance, music, photography and the ongoing banquet of everyday experiences that New York offers day and night. You are invited to be a sponge – and get out into the world and experience art and life. I expect you to work hard. And I will let you know that.

It is not important whether you “succeed” each time you work – what is important is that you do your work to the best of your ability– that it is your sacred right to fail each time you work. I believe art is important to all of us – all around the world. Art speaks to what is both uniquely personal in each of us, and that which is universal.

Art isn’t always pretty, or popular. You must be true to the inner voice that tells you which brushstroke to put here, and which to put there – not heeding the critical voices which seek to silence the “controversial” artist. Instead, maybe we should examine these judges’ own discomfort with the offending material. That artists often need to be brave to do so.

Art has the power to heal us all, to teach us the full meaning of what it is to be human on this earth together.

What we do is essential, perhaps even evolutionary in its power– both good for us to express what we must express, and for our precious audiences – who receive something each time an actor opens her mouth and speaks the speech.

Thank you. And I hope to see you in class.

Ever yours,
Terry Knickerbocker

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