Training Towards Excellence in Acting: A Lifelong Journey



Contributed with humility by Second Year Student Allison Spence Brown


I can admit it: As a kid growing up in Missouri, I held a misguided notion that to be an actor you didn’t need to train.


Yes, I thought, some actors were more skilled than others. But didn’t it all boil down to luck? Being in the right place at the right time? Being super attractive? Being able to cry on command?!


I can admit it: Upon arriving at New York University to study International Relations and Journalism, I secretly harbored resentment towards the Drama students. Here I was slaving away in the library while my friends were rolling around on studio floors in sweatpants having a blast!  


I can admit it: I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. My jealousy towards these artists had clouded rational thought. I wanted what they had, but like a baby giraffe learning to walk, I felt wobbly, vulnerable and exposed. Here I was, surrounded by kids talented enough to be admitted to one of the best acting schools in the world.


I didn’t feel I had permission to label myself an “actor”.


Then something clicked for me: It would be extremely odd to call myself an “International Relations Major” if I had never taken an International Relations class, right? The thing keeping me from confidently declaring myself an actor was trainingsomething I’d previously believed to be unimportant.



When I began studying with Terry in 2011, I felt in over my head. Like I said, I wasn’t an actor — I was an academic! Here I was, a 19-year-old basketball playing, improv-sketch comedian from the boonies who hadn’t been cast in a production since 6th grade. 


Didn’t he see that my resume was blank? I felt that I’d somehow tricked this “guru” into letting me study with him.


I am so grateful Terry saw my passion for acting underneath all that fear. His class gave me a safe space to grow as an artist and human being. After years of being mystified by the process of acting, this was my first glimpse behind the curtain. I saw now the skill needed to be an undeniably good actor. The art form was so much deeper than I’d ever imagined.


Why do great movie stars like Sam Rockwell, Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand return to the theatre between filming blockbusters? As Terry says, it’s not because they need the money. They are dedicated to their craft. They are committed to bringing consistency and clarity to their work. A basketball player doesn’t stop practicing when he gets drafted by the Lakers. A concert pianist doesn’t stop practicing when they’ve booked a show at Carnegie Hall. Similarly, the best actors realize their “talent” is a choice and that the process of becoming excellent is never finished.



Since 2011, I’ve been fortunate enough to train with a multitude of teachers in several cities in a variety of acting methods. I’m extremely grateful to have had those experiences. They opened my mind and heart to new points of view and I walked away with several useful tools for my acting tool-belt.


Yet through it all, I keep coming back to the Meisner work. Over the past 8 years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to study with Terry in several different environments, most recently, his own studioAnd in the spirit of the openness and self-awareness it takes to become a top-notch actor, I feel I must say: I am obsessed.


When I told friends and family I was moving back from LA to NYC for a year to study with Terry YET AGAIN, I was met with a lot of confusion.


“But you’ve already studied so much! You have a degree in this! What good will it do for your career? Get out there and work!”


But here’s the thing: you can’t get better if you don’t make it your priority.



Terry’s interest as a teacher is “training the passionate actor committed to excellence.” I came back to this work because I genuinely love it, but also because I am in charge of setting my own standard. I’m the only one who knows if I’m truly committing my whole self to this.


Any time I feel like “I’ve got it! I get it now! I’m doing it! I’m PERFECT AND WILL NEVER GET AN ACTING NOTE AGAIN!!!!” — the rug is usually pulled out .01 seconds later. But that’s the extremely cool thing about this work: you get to try again. I’m still working on training my brain to view “failures” as “opportunities.” Terry and his faculty fill their classrooms with care, compassion, tough-love, empathy, warmth — you name it. Terry leads by example and encourages us to be present both in the work and feedback. A skill many of us still struggle with. But I’ve noticed I do the clearest work when I leave my ego and defenses out of the room.


If you want to be a deep artist, there is no coasting. I find that to be an exciting notion. It makes a subjective art form slightly more objective (again, former academic over here!) in that you are in charge of how good you want to be. The more I train as an actor, the less I feel I’ve mastered. That might sound negative, but I find the sentiment thrilling.


The title to this post could truly be a thesis statement for life in general.


Trite as it sounds, life is a journey — we are constantly growing, racking up new experiences, failing and succeeding. Why then, would we as actors assume we are ever done training? Acting is work. Hard work. Scary work. Rich, deep, beautiful, ugly, messy, work. Training is the tool that makes our work consistent.


And I can admit it: I still have a lot to learn.


Want to be more like Allison?

Terry Knickerbocker Studio offers comprehensive Two-Year Conservatory rooted in the Meisner technique, in a state of the art facility in Brooklyn, New York.

Interview Today for the Two Year Conservatory

Fill out an Application Here

Or Call 718-801-8999


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