A little bit of backstory on yours truly: Growing up, acting wasn’t my bag. I was all about sports–basketball. I joined my first b-ball team in Kindergarten.
Truth be told, I was very easily distracted and could often be found braiding my teammates’ hair DURING games while ON the court. I had poor motor skills and was easily knocked over, but I was tall and that was all it took back then to be “good” at 6.
By the time I hit 4th grade, I was traveling to tournaments on weekends, playing up to 8 games a week, spending my summers at sleep away basketball camps in Nebraska and practicing daily for several hours. I had fallen in love with the structure of the game and had begun to develop the mindset of a competitive athlete.
I could see the cause and effect involved: you practice, you get better. When I realized my goal was to play college basketball, I put all my eggs in that…basket…(get it?).
CUE: horrific knee injury. After beginning a season with 3 separate concussions (no joke: I was made to wear a helmet in P.E. class…), I blew out my right knee. I had surgery, physical therapy, and was informed that I was to avoid any and all “intense” lateral movement (tennis, snowboarding, my beloved basketball…).
I was 15 years old. I felt that everything I’d worked for had been stripped away overnight. My team went on to win the state championship while I watched from the sidelines wrapped in gauze and ice. A chip began festering on my shoulder; I slipped into, what I now realize was, a deep depression — an identity crisis of sorts.
By the summer after my surgery, I still had a stiffness in my knee and a lingering bitter taste in my mouth. While my friends were in Nebraska hoopin’ it up, I was at home rehabbing.
One afternoon my mother, desperate to get me out of the house, announced she had signed me up for improv comedy camp. I was truly livid. After a long argument and a dramatic teenage door slam, I realized there was no weaseling my way out of it.
I showed up the next morning and sat in the back of the theatre. And sulked. And rolled my eyes a lot. And watched the clock praying I could get the heck away from these weirdos.
But by the end of improv camp, I felt as if a heavenly miracle had been plopped in my lap. There was a whole world outside of basketball, and the dedication I’d gained from training could translate to anything I set my mind to.
The next summer, I was helping teach the class I’d so desperately attempted to avoid.
I became a straight-up improv nerd, deeply committed to absorbing any and all training I could. When it was time to decide where to apply to college, I focused heavily on schools in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles: these were the comedy meccas of America. Sure, I was interested in earning my degree in something; but I was more committed to the idea of being a comedian.
When I arrived at NYU to study comedy, er – sorry – International Relations – I suddenly found myself surrounded by artists. My friends on the college improv team were mostly Drama majors. They were so deep and funny and talented and transformational and, oh boy I was intimidated.
When friends asked me to be in their student films, I felt like a fraud:
Here’s where stuff gets fun, guys:
What do basketball, improv comedy, and acting have in common? Dedication to training, flexibility within foundational skills, being present and “in the moment“, listening and responding, working as an ensemble, and so, so much more.
The Meisner training is unique in that gives actors a blueprint by which to expand our understanding of ourselves as artists. The training celebrates the fact that we are each individuals with our own unique life experiences. Unlike other Conservatory Programs I’ve attended, Terry Knickerbocker Studio aims to mold non-cookie-cutter artists who can play any role they are handed.
The exercises in this work can be likened to layup drills — the more you work foundational muscles, the more likely you will be able to perform under pressure.
Terry Knickerbocker Studio is all about helping artists work their empathy muscle, and a large cross-section of life experiences helps immensely.
During my first year of training, there was a 40s-something man in my class — he was a father, cop, and former Marine. He was amazing to watch because he had so many unique experiences to draw on to deepen his work. He is now a successful working actor.
Being in class and watching other actors from all walks of life helps to expand our imaginations and our understanding of the human condition — which, I argue, should be the goal for all of us actors. As artists, we need to be able to effectively and clearly convey stories that matter. Oftentimes, the characters in these stories are vastly different than ourselves.
All of this to say: anyone can want to be an actor. But in order to call yourself one, you must be willing to dedicate yourself to training.
Now you just need to know how to apply the skills you’ve learned and information you’ve culled to your artistry.