Contributed with pride by Terry Knickerbocker
We announced to these 12 that they had been nominated as Students of the Month several weeks ago. They have been incredibly patient, and respectful as we navigated how to share this moment of celebration in a time of unrest. With our continued focus on community, we want to make sure their hard work is honored.
I want to officially announce & congratulate #TKActors Ali Edwards, Cheryl Howard, Conor Donovan, Daniel Boni, Eirene Tuakora, Ellen Kozarits, Haley Walter, Ian Lawton-King, Josef Buchel, Kristiana Priscantelli, Neil Friedlander, and Tiffany Ratliff on being selected as May Students of the Month!
These 12 have fully embodied what it means to be ‘committed to excellence’ through thick and thin. We are honored & grateful to have them as members of the TK Tribe.
A huge shout-out to recent grad Gabrielle Bones for being our Virtual Photographer for most of these amazing shots! We are indebted to her time & inventiveness.
What does being an artist ‘committed to excellence’ mean to you while training at TK Studio?
There’s a plaque in every room at the studio. The words on this plaque, its sentiment, seem to quietly loom over me and my classmates as we work, as we play, as we exchange excited glances from across our aisles after someone hits a “home run.” These words have informed, occupied and guided me since my first class in the Summer Intensive back in 2019. They affirmed me. I felt them fill me and fuel me. When I’d stumble, these words would bring me back to balance. “Terry Knickerbocker Studio – Training the Passionate Actor Committed to Excellence.”
Having just finished my First Year I think I’ve discovered newfound clarity about what these words mean to me. I love acting. I have always loved acting. While there have been times in my life where my passion or commitment have taken slightly different forms, (I studied screenwriting in college,) I knew when I came to the studio for my first interview that my passion and commitment to acting, in this new place, would be steadfast.
What I now realize, is that I was unsure of this idea of excellence. Being committed to excellence, I thought, meant being the best. And it does- I should strive to be the best actor I can be. But excellence also means being imperfect. Imperfectly, but boldly, trudging through new activities, new circumstances, new relationships, new points of view. Being committed to excellence, to me, means being committed to experimentation. Knowing that not all of my hypotheses will be correct, and honestly, in the beginning they rarely are. But nevertheless, finding joy in the journey. In the alchemy of the craft.
Being committed to excellence means showing up for the work, for my classmates, for my teachers and for myself. It means being generous with my heart and with my energy. It means being as excited to succeed as I am to initially just go for it and see what happens. I am definitely not always perfect. I still, and will always, have so much to learn from Terry and my fellow classmates. But I always find relief and resolve when returning to the plaque- my perpetual pact I made with the studio, and with myself – to be a passionate actor committed to excellence.
A commitment to excellence for me always means committing fully to myself as an artist. Commitment to my training in the pursuit of a higher level, a higher goal of artistic excellence. Staying committed to being the best I can be within the process of the work. Thereby committing to the work with body, mind, and spirit. This means taking care of your body; getting your proper rest and sleep; exercising, walking, running, jogging, eating healthy, and creating balance with yoga and meditation. Taking care of your spirit by finding ways to be gentle with yourself as you study your craft. Listening to soothing music, taking care of your mind by seeing your therapist on a regular basis to talk through problems and issues so you can become clearer with yourself and with your relationships in your life. Being loving, gentle, supportive and compassionate with yourself and your classmates, having empathy for your classmates and being supportive of them.
Committing to excellence is an everyday process. Some days may be harder than others. You will feel lazy some days, and simply won’t want to even get out of bed. And other days you will feel so energized and excited because you finally understand that scene or you have captured a beautiful nuance of a character just by surprise. The important thing is, keep moving forward in your quest and journey for excellence as I do. One day at a time, that one day alone, each time. As Scarlett O’Hara once said: “After all tomorrow is another day,” and you can always begin again each day, that’s the beauty of it all. Achieving excellence is in the little details of the work. Finding those details and committing to them fully–finding the nuances of each character. It’s finding your strengths, and your weaknesses in the work. It’s developing your own humanity by being the best human you can be in body, mind and spirit, and to your fellow classmates. It’s finding yourself, being yourself, trusting yourself, and loving yourself.
Trusting who you are, and that you are enough. It’s discovering that there is only one you in the world; you are not a mistake; you are a soul who is already excellent. However, you are in the process of cultivating and digging deeply inside yourself for your excellence in order to bring it to the surface fully as who you are. You are in the process of cultivating your own personal brand of excellence and that takes time and commitment to yourself, and to the work. Day after day after day after day. Commitment to excellence will be second nature to you. That is what commitment is, a consistency, a behavior of excellence that is happening everyday. It’s a commitment to trusting what you are discovering about yourself on your journey. And knowing, it’s ok. As you continue on your journey of diving deeply for excellence as I do. Above all remember this:
Do not judge yourself, and do not stand in the way of yourself and your commitment to your own excellence. And one more thing, Please…..
To borrow a phrase from Terry, commitment to excellence while training at Terry Knickerbocker Studio means “running towards the cannons.” If acting is doing, then there can be no great acting without great doing.
It means refusing to settle for passable work, solid work, or safe work. Knowing that out on the edge is where it’s at.
It means putting in that extra hour after I’ve “finished” studying my lines and plumbing the depths of a character. When nobody’s watching and nobody will care.
Commitment to excellence means forgetting everything I thought I knew about my work. That curiosity around my shortcomings, habits, and defenses is not a sign of weakness, but rather the key ingredient in what will separate excellence from the rest.
It means that both a seriousness about the work and a sense of humor about myself and my work can not only coexist, but is essential in order for excellence to manifest.
It’s about coming to the realization, after countless hours spent under Terry’s guidance, looking under the hood with our sleeves rolled up, that with life as precious and short as it already is, I really can’t afford to be anything but committed to excellence.
Going into TK Studio, I didn’t know what to expect. I was taking three classes at the start of First Year: Terry’s class, Voice, and Movement. I encourage all new students to take all three. Voice helped me become more confident and use my voice’s full potential. Movement has been so integral to me as an actor, but also just as a human being. It’s made me understand that I am allowed to be exposed and vulnerable. I am allowed to cry, scream, be ridiculously silly, get furiously angry, and be emotionally raw. These lessons have been fundamental to the work I’ve been doing in Terry’s class. They’ve helped me grow as an actor and as a person.
I’ve also learned in Terry’s class that it’s alright to fail. I’ve fought with Terry a lot about how my work has come across and I’ve beat myself up over not putting in good work. Spoiler alert: that doesn’t help either one of us. I’ve learned to listen and focus on how to put in better work for the next time. To me, ‘committed to excellence’ means always putting in the best work you possibly can but also being completely fine with falling flat on your face. It’s going to happen. This is not easy work, nor should it be. It’s meant to challenge you and I’ve always loved a good challenge!
Being an artist committed to excellence means showing up to do the work. Not just coming to class, but truly being present. Preparing yourself for the task at hand, having ideas, bringing your curiosity and your questions. Trying things, playing around, being messy. Nothing is wrong or right. Everything is experimentation. It might work, or it might not. But it’s important that you try and commit. Trusting yourself is a big part of the work we do at the Studio. I spent a big chunk of the school year editing myself, and judging the work I wanted to do before I even brought it to class. That’s a waste of time. Come in and f*ck it up. Whatever doesn’t work will not make it to the final cut, and that’s fine. Be unapologetic about what you want to do, be open to criticism, and welcome change. You cannot get better if you don’t try anything at all.
All the classes I’ve taken so far, whether it be acting, clowning, or movement, taught me that a radical amount of permission can only help you. It’s also in those classes that I’ve had the opportunity to make genuine connections–fellow actors who have incredible insight and passion, some of whom I’m honored to call friends. The TKS community fosters a strong feeling of togetherness, hard work, and resilience. I’m only so lucky to be a part of the family.
To be an artist committed to excellence means committing to doing the work on myself first in order to create my most authentic art. The work involves therapy, breathing, meditation, moving my body everyday, writing to myself, and watching films for fun that inspire me. When I do all of these or at least two a day, I notice I get lost in my art so much easier, and I feel more grounded in my own emotions as they become less terrifying to me. When I feel myself grounded, the process of my emotions after the scene becomes more of a freeing motion of letting go than a suffering one.
Being committed to excellence for me also means being willing to go through the motions of feeling stuck or afraid, and instead look at myself in the mirror when I feel like giving up. I wouldn’t be able to work on myself so much if I didn’t realize the first step of it all is to befriend all the frightening feelings that prove I’m imperfect. These are the golden feelings that help me grow as an artist, and keep myself grounded in the moments with my relationship and circumstances.
I notice that I am treating my work and character with so much more reverence when I feel present in myself— it’s the moment where I trust myself more in my circumstances, and trust that my feelings are valid in specific different parts of myself that must be seen or heard in my character.
When the pandemic hit and we switched to Zoom classes, I knew that I needed to step it up and make the most out of this new experience. I worked extra hard to put my messy self out into my world, and did so more in the past two months than any moment in this Two-Year Program. Learning to be present in this uncertain time of the quarantine has been the most rewarding ending to my Two-Year experience of this Conservatory Program. What a rewarding experience as an artist to be alive in this craft.
Being an artist committed to excellence means consistency. Showing up. Even when you don’t want to. Being available, even when you don’t want to. Because no matter what, if you come into class with open arms and an open mind for whatever new, thrilling, and sometimes even uncomfortable experience you may have, you are headed in the right direction. You are headed towards excellence. And when those moments of clarity hit, boy does that feel pretty close to magic. I am saying this because for me that has been my biggest struggle during my training. Putting in the work, the time, the effort. Letting it consume you but not overwhelm you.
The experience I’ve had at this studio has changed my mindset completely. I have never felt more passionate about acting than I do right in this very moment. I want to keep growing, I want to keep learning. This is just the beginning. Something Terry said that has really stayed with me is “Do not do it for them.” Not only do you get to work with other incredibly talented and inspiring actors during this type of training, but this work is a beautiful, exhilarating and personal endless journey you get to have with yourself. I am extremely proud with how far I have come and I have the studio to thank for that.
I’m really not sure what “excellence” means to me. It never feels that I have done enough and what I have done always feels inadequate.
Focusing on the work in front of me keeps my mind from spiraling out on those feelings. I try my best to keep it simple and true to me.
As actors, we work to serve the integrity of the story we are telling. Our work is to reveal our own humanity, filtered through characters, to enable people to see themselves reflected in those stories. While training at TK Studio, I learned that being an artist committed to excellence starts with committing to and investing in myself.
That started with showing up to do the work. It meant applying what I learned in class and in rehearsals with partners to my individual work at home. In those rehearsals I had the opportunity to take an internal inventory. I had to identify my resistances, learn to lean into them, and get curious when they stubbornly pushed back. It required venturing into the darkness of the unknown, confronting my shadow, and breathing through uncomfortable moments. I put faith in myself and trusted in the work to help push myself further.
The community at TK Studio taught me how to hold myself accountable. Mack and Julia taught me the process of offering myself total permission, being in the moment, and reminding me that no matter where I am in life or what I’m feeling, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright”. They also helped me find my inner Sasha Fierce who I named Dante! In class, Terry invited me to see failure as an opportunity, to have fun because life is meant to be enjoyed, and that it is essential to take a break to treat yourself to a freaking ice cream cone once in a while. Every class, my peers encouraged me to test the limits of my own comfort by throwing themselves so completely into the work, taking extraordinary risks, and openly sharing the vulnerabilities that make them unique. Their commitment became the model for my own: to work hard, to trust my work, to let go of any anxiety related to an outcome and play with abandon. They are my brothers and sisters in art.
I am eternally grateful for what I’ve learned studying at TK Studio. It has influenced my work as an actor and has affected how I interact with the world. Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances as a passionate actor committed to excellence for the last two years showed me the importance of living truthfully in everyday life. It taught me that I have a voice and can take up space. I learned to have empathy toward my defenses which fear, hurt, and resilience constructed to shield my tender heart. It taught me that there are solutions to challenging circumstances if I am committed to finding them.
A script is a series of problems for which an actor needs to create solutions. I leave the studio with a tool box; a set of skills to create solutions to the problems I encounter in life. I’ve learned that courage is not acting without fear, rather it’s feeling the fear and being committed to going forward anyway. In the last months of my training at TK Studio, the world changed. The “normal” that people reminisce about returning to is poisonous. The training has given me the skills I need to collaborate with others to find a new normal for all and not just the select few. I now have the confidence I need to commit to charging the cannons in the micro arena of my career, my daily relationships, and the raising of my son as well as in the macro arena by doing my part to drive social justice and change.
TK Studio created a space in which I could develop a process to commit and recommit to excellence in my work, in my life, and in myself. When I remind myself that my imperfections are the bristles on the brush; that my empathy and imagination are colors I use to make art, I commit to excellence.
Putting in the work, trusting, and being courageous is an artist “committed to excellence.”
For me, this means holding myself accountable to doing this work persistently and ritually in order to make new discoveries. This includes giving attention to movement work, voice work, and personalized practices that help me connect better with myself and form new habits. This work calls for creativity, imagination and innateness, which help me to be free.
A commitment to excellence requires being open to learning more about myself and being open to change. It requires trusting myself regardless. It also means trusting in the process because it works, trusting each of my partners and classmates because I can learn a lot from them, trusting Julia, Kana, Mack, and Matthew, and lastly trusting Terry and his extraordinary wisdom to lead me through this.
The work demands release of judgement and fear of getting it wrong. It is relieving myself of the pressure and expectations created. It is allowing whatever comes up for me to be what it is at that moment without judgement. Succumbing to what feels uncomfortable is incredibly challenging, and takes courage, but often leaves me eager to take another risk – which has helped me feel exhilarated, have fun and be free.
Lastly, “being an artist committed to excellence” means doing this work because I love it.
For me this question has a lot to do with treating my craft with respect and patience. I know for example that things work best when I actively devote time to aimlessly wander around in my imagination and allow for things to fall into place. It also has a lot to do with the way I treat myself. With this, Kendrick has really helped me shift my focus this year, from feeling the need to prove myself as an actor to accepting that I am one. In this way the emphasis has become much more on getting better and growing, whereas there used to be a lot of self-judgement that was getting in the way of that.
I think that being in an atmosphere of “commitment to excellence” at the Studio, as each of us defines it, pushes me constantly to want to be better. I feel very lucky and grateful to be surrounded by people who like me are in pursuit of their own most truthful and vulnerable selves, and with teachers who encourage this sort of pursuit and guide us with a lot of care, wisdom and experience. It’s been amazing to realize that doing this work and connecting with like-minded artists has been making my heart more brave, and is opening up my life to a richer, more full experience of being.
It means that one must not just be an artist committed to excellence, but an artist committed to being an excellent human being — though I recognize that even that can be a major feat. So. When we fail, we must try to lead with love, compassion, and forgiveness. Something that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Or even the thing we want to do. Now more than ever, I have an obligation to get uncomfortable. To change. To take ownership for what I do not know and what I benefit from. To use my voice and stop being afraid of every goddamn thing. For me, being committed to excellence means digging until you hit something hard and vulnerable, then digging even deeper.. ultimately, questioning and wondering why I am who I am and where that “I” came from. It means listening, speaking up, and pushing through very painful boundaries. It means moving through all the shit and simply, doing whatever the task is at hand.
Many times, I have questioned whether being an artist is worth it. I’ve felt that there were other professions that could better impact the world and bring change. But I’m learning otherwise. In some way, it sounds selfish and narcissistic, in other ways, it gives me hope. I pray that one day, the full humanity of the Black community will be honored and recognized. I pray that justice is served, reparations are made, and a collective healing can begin. I pray that we will have a future that is humane and good. One where BIPOC LGBTQIA+ and everyone in between can feel safe and just live. I believe being an actor committed to excellence can bring about that safety, and in a small way, relieve some of the suffering of the human experience — a sort of solace to those who need it. ‘Til that day, one must continue to search, show up, speak up, and listen. Giving a big “fuck you” to all the inner and outer demons and just move through the shit and do it.