Students of the Season Spring 2024


As we approach the summer season, we want to take a moment to recognize some outstanding acting students who embody the TK Studio spirit. Our TKS Faculty has named a select group of students who have shown exceptional passion, commitment, and excellence in their work.

Please extend a warm congratulations to our Spring 2024 Exceptional Students of the Season: Amanda Xeller, Sheldon Nicholas, Javan Robinson, Justis Phillips, Ahmed Elsawi, Gamaliel Arroyo, Jervaris Etienne, Alex Kostka, John Murray, Deja Dawkins, Lyndsay Edmonds, Terrence Dearman, Tawny Dolley, and Rotana Tarabzouni. These students have stood out in their classes with their dedication and hard work, and we’re proud to have them as part of our community!

After notifying these students of their nominations, we asked them to share some insights on their time at TK Studio with the following prompts:

How has your training here at TKS supported your understanding and pursuit of artistic excellence?

Describe a moment in your training journey that you recall as having had a clear and lasting impact on you?

What does being a part of the TKS community mean to you?

Those recognized continually bring the utmost courage, joy and authenticity to the room day in and day out.  We’re so grateful to honor their hard work and dedication over their time with us! Help us send them some much-deserved love and congratulations!

amanda xeller



Amanda Xeller

Second-Year Conservatory Student

The Conservatory classes here at TKS have supported me massively. I come from the comedy world and decided to seek out an acting studio not only to return to theater but also to expand my artistic community. So much of what I have learned here is that you have to give it your all. You have to go deep and be personal, but also be incredibly flexible and accepting when there’s more work to be done. This school has illuminated not just that frustration is a part of the work, but that frustration is good and it’s going to be okay. It’s about accepting the process and being gentle with yourself throughout it. It’s been about understanding that things take time and to have not just patience with yourself, but also the drive with finding your ways in.

So much of the work at TKS is understanding our pathways into what activates us and then mining that for when we take on characters, improvised circumstances, and scene work. Being a Meisner actor is living authentically under imaginary circumstances, which is intimidating, but also…what a gift. Being able to honestly experience what a specific character gets to experience, be it heartbreak, grief, falling in love, vengeance, etc, is incredible. Vulnerable, and incredible. I was able to fully crack into that for with the last scene I did, The Universal Language by David Ives. About halfway through the rehearsal process, I found my way into my character Dawn’s point of view and what this circumstance meant to her. I got to bring myself then to Dawn, live out the scene authentically, and feel everything she was feeling honestly while in the scene. I was so proud of the work and so proud that I got to keep doing the scene justice over and over and over again.


Being in a room where I can bring ideas to activate me in an incredibly vulnerable way, totally judgment-free and then get feedback is huge. HUGE. There’s a safety that the classroom, the community, provides that allows us to take these vulnerable risks. We can go to these deep places within us. Having a class that is open to it and supports these big swings is vital to our growth. We trust each other and respect each other. It’s humbling growing alongside such phenomenal artists doing the same thing. Not only are we different people, but a lot of us have the same blocks. When a classmate is able to take down a block, it’s a victory not just for them but for me and the rest of the class too. When a classmate is able to go there, it’s a victory for me and the rest of the class too. If they can do it, so can I. And if I can do it, so can they. It’s a victory for us. I love my classmates dearly. I’ve built some wonderful friendships with them, I’m so proud of them, and I can’t wait to continue to both work with and watch them conquer the art world-post TKS. Also, it was pretty cool cutting the karaoke line with Terry to do a duet at the Holiday Party. Encore at the next open house?

sheldon nicholas


Sheldon Nicholas

First-Year Conservatory Student

There is so much beauty in vulnerability and this work helps you find that at its purest form, while still being true to you. I would have never reached this level of understanding without Celestine’s guidance and for that I will forever be grateful to her and to this studio. RUN TOWARDS THOSE CANNONS! 

The moments of genuine connection with your partner during an exercise, which only come when you’re actively listening, have been extremely impactful for me. Letting my mind fade and my impulses take over have led me to so many beautiful discoveries about myself while enabling me to find my emotional truth.

This community means everything to me. There have been countless times where I would feel overwhelmed and doubtful of my abilities but it is so validating to be with so many like-minded people that are willing to uplift and motivate you throughout the process.  

Javan robinson



Javan Robinson
Second-Year Conservatory Student

Training here has completely shifted my views on acting and artistic excellence. Playing sports throughout college ingrained in me a spirit of perfection with little grace for mistakes. TKS has taught me that in this craft, curiosity is the key to expansive growth. In order to achieve excellence, becoming the greatest version of yourself, you have to continue to be curious about where things worked and where things didn’t. This mindset has opened up a world of possibilities for me within this work.


There was a moment during the first semester of the 1st year where I came into class with an athletic mindset: “I’m going to crush the day today! I’m going to be perfect! No mistakes!” As I was working with my partner, I was missing moment after moment after moment. Terry was constantly coaching me to see that I was missing moments until it got to a point where he wanted to provide additional feedback.

Immediately, I was upset with myself. I felt like a failure and felt like an imposter. I slapped my hands out of frustration, and Terry began to tell me how that mentality wasn’t going to be good for my work. I sat down and broke down. Tears I’ve held back for a while began to flow out. Terry’s curiosity about how I was feeling opened up a beautiful moment for me. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t meant for this work. That I was “faking the funk.” Terry looked at me and said, “I believe in you.” That moment shifted something in me. For someone I admire and respect so much to acknowledge they believe in me, that altered how I see myself. From that point forward, I’ve had a relentless belief that I am where I’m meant to be and that I’m meant to do this work. 

Community is near and dear to my heart. This work that we do at the studio is extremely difficult and can feel extremely isolating. To be a part of a space that sees you, accepts you, supports you, and loves you is a lost art that is often unappreciated. TKS is and has been a space for actors to come and strip away their defenses in order to become vulnerable and deeply truthful in the work. I am grateful to be a part of this space where I can hone my craft. Surrounding myself with classmates and faculty that want the best for me is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

justis phillips

Justis Phillips

First-Year Conservatory Student

TKS is a really special studio in that the support I’ve been receiving here from Terry and the rest of the faculty and staff is nothing I’ve felt before. They take me and all of my peers seriously and hold us to very high standards which has allowed me to (finally!) take myself and my art seriously. Prior to arriving at TKS I had to move past many mental blocks that told me I was too old, too late, and the odds were too low. I’m so happy that I’ve been proven wrong.

Five months into this program, artistic excellence to me is not shrouded in mystery or the impossible idea of perfectionism. Artistic excellence is the commitment I have to myself, in showing up regardless, in failing time and again because that’s where the juicy lessons are learned. Artistic excellence is a faith that one has to have, that deep sense of intuition that you are where you need to be in this moment. That your are a unique and special being with talents to hone and sharpen, that will one day be recognized and celebrated by others.

IIRecently I did an expanded activity: a pantomime clown proposal set to “You’re My First, My Last, My Everything” by Berry White. The activity itself was so, so fun and got me into the temperament of loving joy; however, the contact between my partner and I wasn’t truthful. I stifled feelings of annoyance at his being there and his judgements/critiques of my proposal. I tried to appease him so that he would (hopefully) leave as soon as possible, instead of just asking him to leave. John Maria Gutierrez was filling in for Terry that day, and the feedback he gave me was really enlightening. Not only is “people pleasing” a manipulation of others, but it is also a manipulation of oneself. In not responding truthfully, I was manipulating my partner, as well as myself and my sense of truth. I was contorting to fit the needs of others, thus ignoring my truth in the moment. It blew my mind then and still does. This feedback not only helps me in the work but also in my personal life. While I’m not totally out of the woods with this habit of putting others’ feelings before my own, I do feel more confident in being able to honor my truth and to not dwell on or manipulate the situation. The feelings of others shouldn’t take precedence and come at the cost of mine. It wasn’t easy to essentially be called out on manipulation, but I’m so appreciative of John’s feedback as it ultimately empowers me to regard myself and my experience with the same care and seriousness with which I take others and their experiences. I am so grateful for John and his ability to communicate this wisdom to me. I really needed it.

It’s been well over a decade since I have been in community with other actors and I cannot express how much I missed it and how much it means to me to find this community in adulthood. To be around people who understand exactly what you’re going through, who struggle with similar things in the work, who are as passionate and dedicated to their craft as I am has been so reassuring, creatively fertile and honestly, healing. Community is everything, especially in an inherently collaborative art such as acting. Having this creative community supports me in creating a sustainable acting practice, one that will encourage me to keep going, to keep striving, to uplift and be uplifted by those who are also going through it! I have such immense gratitude to TKS for creating and supporting an environment for genuine connection and for the community to thrive.

ahmed elsawi

Ahmed Elsawi

Second-Year Conservatory Student

A moment in my training that I recall having a lasting impact on me would actually be a moment that occurred a week ago. For my scene, I’m doing Brilliant Traces by Cindy Lou and it’s just a beautiful play and I see so much of the character in myself. I’m fascinated that I get to work on this play because it challenges everything about me that I fear. Terry can see that I’m reluctant in my work and at the same time that I’m trying to really be fully submerged. He was so kind and gentle in his feedback and helped me understand a lot about myself. This is literally one week before we finish the conservatory. He told me that a big reason why I tend to avoid is because there is a lot of meaning behind the things I avoid, and I’m afraid of how it’s going to affect me. I might not know what to do and not being in control of life is pretty scary.

There is a meaningful line that Terry just drops like it’s nothing, but it will stick with me forever and it’s been circling my head since I heard it: “The experience you FEAR as an actor will become a THRILL you CRAVE and CHASE.” I mean, come on! Do you hear what he’s saying? I’m beyond grateful for Terry because he’s helped me become the person I am today. I feel privileged to experience acting with him.

Gamaliel arroyo

Gamaliel Arroyo

First-Year Conservatory Student

My training at TKS has been beyond rewarding. Having already some training under my belt, I knew I wanted to be a part of a studio that would push the boundaries of how I know myself as an actor. With TKS, I’ve found a home where I can begin to know myself as an actor, a person, a part of my community, and a more intentional artist. It’s crazy to think that before going to TKS I wasn’t sure I could fully conceptualize what my understanding of artistic excellence was. By studying Meisner with Terry, I’ve been launched into finding structure in my craft and focusing on the pursuit of excellence and what that looks like for me. This training is consistently pushing me out of my comfort zone to help me realize my potential alongside being a part of a beautiful community of actors embarking on the same journey. Heartening doesn’t even begin to describe it!

jervaris etienne

Jervaris Etienne

Spring Intensive Student

 Experiencing the artistry at TKS really allowed me to see how indispensable it is to be present not only while I’m working on the craft but also in every other facet of my life. While training at TKS, you are privileged to work with such talented people, and you get to see such an expansive range of personalities and emotions. While working on the craft, it is so crucial to have support from a great community and TKS is an exemplary place to be at for this work.

alex kostka


Alex Kostka

Second-Year Conservatory Student

Training at TKS has been a life changing move for me as an artist and even in my personal life. Being given the creative space to allow yourself to try, fail, and try again all while learning about yourself along the way has been the most freeing. Prior to coming here for training – I was experiencing extreme burnout after spending years touring as a musician – when interviewing at the studio, I didn’t even meet Terry – I followed my heart, trusted myself, and allowed myself to make that first step back into the world of being an artist. Working with Terry has been an absolute pleasure and the encouragement, feedback, and way I’ve been able to connect to him is an experience I’ll never forget. I love this work and the people/community I’ve been able to share it with.


Training at TK Studio has helped me rediscover what it means to be an artist. Acknowledging any pressure and setting it off to the side to focus on your work, a change of mindset and being open and free to try new things, taking risks and embracing new opportunities has helped ground me more as an artist.

Being encouraged to take up more space, putting paint on the canvas, and doing this work because you love it have been constant reminders throughout my journey here. Being completely focused on the CRAFT of this work has been one of my favorite things about this journey.
Being part of the TKS community has been a positive experience. Having an artistic home to belong to and connecting with other actors from all over the world in one place to share our passion for the craft of acting has been a huge impact on my life and career. 
jervaris etienne

John Murray
Second-Year Conservatory Student

I believe that my time training at TKS has given back my autonomy in terms of my work. Before training at TKS my tools to break down a scene had gotten dull. Working with Terry and Celestine has given me a set of sharpened tools that I can rely on when I need to prepare a scene. But, the support that I received from TKS doesn’t stop there. It’s had a profound effect on me as a person in my everyday life. My approach to being a friend, partner and father has changed for the better due to my time at TKS. I think that comes from becoming more emotionally available. Which is something TKS provided a safe space for me to do. Autonomy, Confidence, Emotional Intelligence, these three gifts are only a small part of what TKS has given me. I will be forever grateful for them.

In one of my earliest classes I can remember Terry told a story of how he attended the Andy Kauffman’s show at Carnegie Hall. Having a comedy background, I was enthralled by the details of Terry’s story. In the comedy world Andy Kauffman is a god and his Carnegie Hall show is the stuff of legend. The fact that Terry was able to take his story and tie it to the work was eye opening. I’ll do my best to paraphrase the lesson: Terry described the show as a complete experience. One where everything was thought out, every choice had a reason, nothing was left to chance. It was still a fun show, an unpredictable, electric performance. Andy knew what he was doing, he wasn’t phoning it in or just getting by in the moment. He had made choices, those choices surprised the audience. That story had such an impact on me. As I planned all my first year activities I would think “What would Andy do?” Not in terms of comedy but in terms of choices. I made sure I always had a reason for whatever I was doing. Every activity was a complete piece. Into second year I kept the same mantra with the character work. I still keep it in mind with scenes.


Being a part of the TKS community means having a safe space to work and explore.

deja dawkins

Deja Dawkins

First-Year Conservatory Student

The people that make up the TKS community create a safe and supportive environment. Before joining the TKS community life experiences made me close myself off to others. This community has broken down those barriers and cultivated an environment of vulnerability. I get emotional reliving everyone’s breakthrough moments in class; seeing each other grow and become their most authentic true selves has become a priority for all of us. I am filled with joy and gratitude to have such a genuine loving and supportive community around me.

Training at TKS opened room for self-reflection. I now have an understanding of habits that were not beneficial to my well-being. A lot of times I would come to the work with anxiety, worrying about how to get it “right”. This pressure-filled mindset hindered me from having fun. My training taught me that it’s not about getting it “right” or “wrong” but instead being able to learn from the experience and approach the work with curiosity. Shifting my mentality allowed me to take up space and for my voice to be heard.

A moment in my training journey that had a lasting impact on me was a class when I was sick and still able to do some of my best work at the time. All I remember was that I kept repeating, “You’re upsetting me” very loudly as tears rolled down my face and soaked my mask; it felt great. I was projecting my voice, I had an honest point of view, and I was letting my partner affect me which allowed for true emotion.  That day I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was proud of myself. It was the start of letting my walls down and truly expressing how I feel. My most meaningful work is when I am out of my head, in the moment, and connected to my partner.

Lyndsay Edmonds


Lyndsay Edmonds

Second-Year Conservatory Student

The training at TK is life changing; it feels bigger than just “How to become a better actor.” It’s how to become a better person. You will see your breakdowns become breakthroughs. You will witness the joys of love, and laughter, and light. Experience the perils of sorrow, pain and heartbreak. I can’t explain it to you. Just do it, for yourself. I have become addicted and obsessed, and so my pursuit of artistic excellence has become a lifelong journey. What else is there to do?

There was an experience, in Nursery Rhymes, where Terry slowed down my voice and the entirety of the rhyme. He broke it down into moments, and marionetted what could have been. It felt as if a light had shone directly onto me, the red sea parted, and I said to myself “Damn, he is good.” It gave me chills. It gave the room chills. It was my work, my crafting, my emotions, but he directed it with clarity and precision. It’s night and day.

 Community to me means you have people who you can count on when you are socially lonely, artistically drained, and inspirationally creative. You can’t shake em! That’s what I have here. 

Terrence dearman<br />


Terrence Dearman

First-Year Conservatory Student

There are too many moments to recall that had lasting impacts on me: from current experiences in Celestine’s first year acting class, to the Voice and Movement classes and the Intensive that I had with Onye almost 2 years ago before starting the 2 year program. I would say a lasting moment was during the intensive where I was encouraged to let my feelings happen – all the rage, all the failure – and being okay with living in the moment. That moment was a renaissance for me.

Tawney Dolley


Tawny Dolley

Second-Year Conservatory Student

There is this section during second year where we get to choose several Nursery Rhymes and essentially create whole stories using only the words of the rhymes. It was our first time putting the work on its feet, and though it was clear that nobody really knew what the heck we were supposed to be doing, I was SURE that I had “figured it out.” But then when I started getting feedback from Terry, I quickly realized that I hadn’t at all “figured it out”, and I started to fall back into this old habit of weaponizing Terry’s feedback and taking everything he was saying to me personally, so I started getting a little short with him. 

Then, Terry asked me if I had another rhyme to show him, and at first I said, “No, I’m done, and I know this next one sucks too, so let’s just skip it.” But Terry encouraged me to do it anyway, so I decided to proceed ahead. The Nursery Rhyme I was doing was called “Humpty Dumpty”, and in this version, I was telling Humpty’s family that Humpty had a fall and had died. I entered entered the room, which I had decided was the hospital waiting room, and I was all dark and serious, with tears in my eyes, and I’m looking at Humpty’s family… and the minute I began to choke out the words “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…,” I BURST into laughter, as did Terry and the rest of the class. We all laughed for a good couple of minutes, and in that moment, sitting there looking at everyone laughing at me laughing at myself, I had this huge epiphany. I realized that just because this work is hard, and it is VERY hard, it doesn’t mean that I have to be so serious about it, or that I have to take myself so seriously doing it. Maybe if I put a little more “Play” into my work, it wouldn’t have to be as daunting as I was making it for myself. I feel like I got a lot more free in my work after that, because rather than getting stressed about “getting it right” in class, I started to get excited about the endless possibilities of what I was getting to create instead.

Being apart of the TKS community means being apart of a community of like-minded artists who are dedicated not only to the pursuit of being the best actors they can be, but also dedicated to the pursuit of being better humans. It’s a community full of people being authentic, truthful, compassionate, and loving, while also working hard to pursue excellence in the craft of acting. Being a part of this community has been incredibly liberating. For the first time in my life, I finally feel free to be myself without the fear of judgement or criticism. I feel cared for, accepted, and loved.



Rotana Tarabzouni

Spring Intensive Student

Join the TKS community and become a confident actor for the rest of your life.