Why do actors work with the same people over and over again?



Contributed with love by 2nd Year Conservatory Student Allison Spence Brown


I’m just going to jump right in and say it: There’s a reason that some actors continually work with the same person.


You expedite the process of getting comfy with one another. You rely on the fact that your chemistry is already there. You have muscle memory. You get to know one another intimately and that intimacy grows the more time you spend working with one another.


There’s something intoxicating about working again and again with someone you enjoy so deeply. The first time informs the second time which, even after many years, can inform the third and fourth and fifth. It can feel like Stone and Gosling / J-Law and B-Coop / Kate and Leo / Ferrell and C. Reilly / Jonah and Channing / Amy and Tina / Sandra and Keanu…


This post is a love letter to my acting soulmate. It is a love letter to the work that laid the groundwork for us to become so close as friends and artists. And it is a love letter to Terry Knickerbocker for introducing me to a life-long friend and continually pairing us together.



I first started the Meisner training in the Summer of 2011. I took an 8-week Summer Intensive course to dip a toe.  I had zero acting training whatsoever.


I showed up on the first day feeling like an impostor. Neither Terry nor my classmates were doing anything to make me feel this way, but still, I was terrified.


My class was extremely diverse, filled with actors of all ages and levels of training. We began with repetition and slowly built the foundational skills necessary for scene work. As the summer progressed, I began to feel more confident.



Then, just as I felt I was grasping primary concepts of the work, Terry switched things up with us and assigned our first scenes.


He paired me with a 20s something, handsome Cuban dude from Miami named Melvin. Our class was filled with talent, yet Melvin was a standout. Secretly, I’d been dying to work with him all summer. He was a delight to watch: open, deep, goofy and quick on his feet. Yet, as soon as I was paired with him, the fear set in. He was the partner I’d wanted, but I’d never done scene work before.  How on earth was I going to “deliver”?


Melvin was my first scene partner ever… like, EVER ever. I can’t really remember much about our first rehearsal except for the fact that we had to have a SECOND “first” rehearsal. We spent the first one talking and laughing and getting to know each other. We spoke the same language: he constantly made fun of me and teased me about my “youth” and lack of experience.


Oddly enough, it was that playful bullying that put me at ease and opened me up (I use the term “bullying” loosely…).


Every rehearsal was different —his playful spirit made our rehearsals lively and fun. Not only was he a generous scene partner, he was incredibly intuitive. He didn’t hold back, which in turn made me feel as if I had permission, and honestly a duty, to do the same.


Terry says we should want our partners to “f*** our s*** up”.


He encourages us to hungrily lean into the ride your partner is taking you on: Let them hurt your feelings, let them warm your heart, let them to affect you to your core. Afterwards, because it’s acting, you can leave those feelings at the door and go grab a coffee.



Iconic facebook post in which we learn that we’re both signed up for first year training…


After the intensive, Melvin and I wound up in the same First Year class. Terry was our teacher, and we began again from the beginning. It was a joy to watch someone I’d come to know and care for grow within the work. As we rotated scene partners throughout the year, I felt myself opening up as an artist.  Each of them taught me something about the craft, as well as myself.




Hanging with some of our first year class…



Terry knows what he’s doing in more ways than one. Every partner I’ve ever been paired with in his classes over the years has shaped my artistry and changed my outlook on acting in their own way. They’ve each had their own unique “flair” and brought my emotionality out in new and surprising ways. 


Meisner actors are generous with their emotions and ideas. We tend to become obsessed with the work. We’re trained to be able to do truthful work in any scene we’re given and with any partner(s) we are cast with. Yet, working with someone you already trust and feel deeply connected to is always going to have it’s own delicious flavor. 


When I was paired with Melvin for our final scene of first year, I was ecstatic. I was no longer “scared” of the work, I was pumped.



I’ve been consulting Melvin while working on this blog post; and we agree that by the second time we were paired together, we felt completely comfortable from the outset. We didn’t need to do the “getting to know you” part — that work was already done. Our familiarity allowed us to dive into scene work more deeply than I ever had before.


In 2012 after our First Year of our training, I made the difficult decision to leave Terry’s class and return to NYU to finish my BFA. Many of my classmates (including Melvin) stayed for the Second Year. You know how you promise to stay in touch in those kinds of situations… But life can get in the way. I slowly drifted further and further from my first year friends. I kept in touch, but had no idea what was really going on in their lives.



Cut to Summer 2018. After years of focusing primarily on comedy, I had the opportunity to take Terry’s scene study workshop in Los Angeles. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to uproot my life in LA for 2 months and head to New York to immerse myself in this work once again. I signed up for his Advanced Scene Study class and on impulse immediately texted Melvin. We hadn’t seen each other in person in years, but I had been itching to work with him again. I was pretty pushy and he wound up signing up for the class, too.


Wouldn’t ya know it? Terry paired us together once again. (Thanks, Terry!)


When it came time to choose a scene, we hopped on the phone with one another. I felt like a robot, but he was great. We wound up choosing the opening scene from “Motherf***er with the Hat”.



Looking back, I think the years apart had allowed shyness to creep in on my part. What if this third “first rehearsal” was a train-wreck? I arrived to the rehearsal space super early full of jitters. When Melvin arrived he scooped me up in the biggest bear hug of my life. It was strange, we’d been out of each other’s lives for almost 7 years, but the familiarity and friendship was still there. Yet again, we spent the “first rehearsal” laughing and catching up (we once again needed a second first rehearsal…). I had no idea what was going on in his life, yet it felt like no time had passed.


Want to be more like Allison?


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