“Why I wish I had trained in the Meisner Technique with Terry Knickerbocker.”

Sep

27

This article was contributed with love by Studio Manager Kristan Brown.


I’m going to be honest with you. I didn’t study with Terry Knickerbocker. But I really, really wish I did.

 

In 2013, I graduated with my MFA from a highly regarded and respected Meisner program. Like any Meisner teacher good enough to teach at the top level, her spirit was a tidal wave of fierce generosity. She introduced me to the writings of Rilke. She taught me to look up. She taught me how to fly, showed me I was capable of anything. I did work I never thought I would be capable of, and I could do it with a sense of ease.

 

Every day in class I got to watch her push us.

“Make a braver choice!”

“Open your hearts!”

“Let the imps out!”

“Where’s your curiosity?”

We were corks, and she dropped us into the proverbial ocean–to ride the wave of our emotions.

Without fail, she’d raise her voice in passion, “Drop it down!” over and over again until I was acting from the hull of my emotional ship. She asked “why” and “so what?” so many times I periodically felt the urge to punch the face of the petulant pre-schooler I imagined in front of me.

And boy oh boy did she raise the stakes. For everything. Three weeks in, I wept alongside my classmates as we watched Josh build a scale model of the Vatican out of raw spaghetti, like his life depended on it. Because let’s face it, in those three beautiful years, it did.

But there was an underlying, pernicious feeling that these high stakes created in me. One that would soon bloom into a crippling panic. Already hard-wired for anxiety, a dynamic started festering, and I gave into my demons.

 

Bottom line: I wanted to please her more than I had wanted to please anyone in my entire life. It was a matter of life and death. And I was obsessed.


 

Perfectionism and Acting

 

Everything I did was to get her praise. My perfectionist tendencies overwhelmed me and I succumbed to a constant desire to achieve perfection, and my incapacitating fear of failure. I spent every day dreading the next in a state of utter panic and fear, desperate to get it right–activity after activity.

Of course. My work got better. I worked and worked and worked and worked. But instead of working to create, I only worked to please. And every criticism, while probably constructive, was utterly traumatic.

My relationship with my teacher devolved so much that I would tear up when I heard her boots leisurely clip down the hallway. When I worked in class,  I heard only snippets of her notes over the deafening mantra in my head “Just don’t cry. Just don’t cry. Keep it together.” In complete denial, I just couldn’t understand why for the life of me I didn’t have the relationship with her that the majority of my classmates had. And of course, I told myself, it had to be her fault. She just didn’t like me.

While I was drowning in my insecurities, I couldn’t keep my head above water long enough to actually listen to her. To hear what she was saying. Trust me, I notice the irony. Meisner training does not exist without a hyper-awareness of listening. We live or die by how well we can listen to our scene partner.

 

My best class activity: suffering

 

I was too involved in the “activity” of my own suffering and indulging in my shame, that I couldn’t listen to my partner in my education. My teacher.

I never had the strength to ask her for help.  It honestly never felt like it was an option. And it never occurred to me to go to therapy.

Finally, I never could trust the unbelievably amazing, talented, and caring woman who was taking me on this journey.

And much to my surprise, that feeling never really went away. After the disaster of showcase and the elation of graduation, the feelings continued, and intensified, and bled into every facet of a life I was attempting to lead in New York. I became something I never thought I’d become:

A starving and exhausted waitress in New York who used to do a little acting.

And to everyone’s surprise but my own, I quit acting.

 


 

The Terry Knickerbocker Studio Difference.

 

When I started working at TK Studio, I noticed something different. Terry had a different and specific relationship with every one of his students. He understood the power of the group dynamic, alleviating the immense pressure that we as performers feel “having to go” in class. Every student was encouraged to ask questions, and ask for help. His students had the utmost respect for him, without having to be overwhelmed by fear of him. Like any good teacher, he was guiding his students to the edge of their comfort zones and meeting students’ resistance with a firmly generous hand. He lived up to the words on the wall–passionately and fully committing himself to excellence. And encouraging his students to do the same.

I saw similar artistic transformations in the students that I had once seen in myself. Of course emotions are high. The work demands it. But I never saw Laura leave class crying inconsolably every Monday and Wednesday at 3pm sharp. I never overheard John and Christina quietly gossiping after class. About what confusing or ludicrous thing Terry had just said in this class, or how unpredictable his behavior was in that one.

I realized that they were experiencing the same artistic growth that I had, without all of distractions. There wasn’t an environment of “them versus him.” The environment bred curiosity instead of insecurity. It felt inclusive. There really was a tribe. And it included him.

 

And most importantly, he encouraged his students to go to therapy. There is no stigma. It isn’t a weakness. It helps contextualize and process the stuff that we are desperately asking to bubble up.

What I didn’t understand before meeting Terry was that going to therapy while training helps keep the therapy out of the classroom. It is vital. Yes the work is personal. It is deep. It is messy. And it can be therapeutic. But it is NOT therapy. Therapy is therapy.

And this is what makes Terry different.

 


 

In order to be anyone in this world, we have to train first.

 

In 2010, I was not emotionally prepared to do this work. To hold that mirror up to myself, my messy bits, my strengths, and accept them for what they were. Moreover, the work is impossible to do alone. But that is exactly what I tried to do. Go it alone. Without a teacher I could talk to. Without a therapist I could work with.

Most days I wonder if things could have been different. What Foundational Training would have been like with someone I could hear. Who I would let help me. Who I could talk to. Who I could question. Who I could go to.

Most days I wonder If I might still be acting.

Every day at TK Studio feels like a rebirth. I have the opportunity to help students have the experience that I didn’t get to have. With a teacher who does the work with compassion. And whose generous passion lives in the DNA of this building.

 

Point is, I’m so grateful for my training. And I’m grateful to the woman I got to do it with. Being a professional “anything” takes training. If you have to ask whether or not you need it, you are not long for this world. If you have to ask why you have to train for JUST two years, you are asking the wrong question. If you are asking why it costs so much, do your research. It’s a small ask for a lifetime of tools.

If you are ready to meet the right person to guide you through that training, this just might be the place for you. I fully believe it would have been the right place for me.

 


 

 

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 Fall Conservatory or the Summer Intensive

Fill out an Application Here

Call 718-801-8999

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