I was thinking about the years I spent studying with Terry and the studio, and if you’ll indulge me – I’ve always been interested in the history of the American theatre, and the history of the craft and the theories of teaching the craft. We have a rich and eclectic history of the study of the craft of acting in this country.
I started thinking about where, for me, the Schreiber Studio fits into all this, because these days there are so many different schools of thought. And the splintering that’s gone on over the last 50-75 years on how to teach acting is a fascinating thing to look at. It’s intellectually fascinating. But practically speaking for a young actor arriving in New York, it’s a swamp.
I came to New York fresh out of college, determined to pursue the study of acting. You get to New York, and it’s just an alphabet of indecipherable institutions, individuals, and theories to study: there are institutions with people’s name on them, there’s the Alexander method, and the Meisner method, there are places, there are directors who teach on the side…When you’re twenty one and arriving in New York, it’s a mess. It’s enormously challenging at best, intimidating at worst. It’s very hard. It’s a real crap shoot. If you’re not going to go directly into the graduate dramas programs, you say to yourself: “How the hell am I going to find someone who speaks my language, who I can receive a practical benefit from.” Even when you start to explore, you find the splintering of all the theories have resulted in all these dogmatic approaches to acting. Some people say, “If you don’t study acting this way, then you’re missing the boat.” Very often that entails studying it this way for a number of years. Some institutions don’t want you auditioning, because they say you’re not ready to be a professional until you study with them for a long time.
So for me, the T. Schreiber Studio proved to be an enormous blessing. I wish I could say that it was some built-in intuition on my part. But really, it was luck. I ended up with Terry because he actually believed in the barter system. I had less than no money, and I certainly had no money for acting classes, and somebody tipped me off that Terry – in his multifaceted career – was directing productions in Japan. He was directing a Japanese production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He was looking for Japanese lessons. As it turned out, I had studied Japanese and lived there for a bit. So I hit on this bargain with Terry, that I would trade him once a week in exchange for acting lessons.
I found Terry through the barter system, and not thru any skill of my own. Over 4 years of studying with Terry and other teachers at his studio, I came to appreciate what an extraordinarily lucky first find that had been. And I always returned to the studio, because I found things I couldn’t find anywhere else in New York theatrical training. I couldn’t find these things anywhere else.
In a city full of very opinionated and very focused approaches to acting, Terry has always understood that modern actors today need very diverse skills. They’re called upon to do very different things. You could be doing Shakepeare in the Park one minute and doing a film the next. They all require different techniques and a different approaches to the craft. Terry has always understood that acting has reached a stage where you need a pluralism to it, you need to approach and study it with an open mind, and study it from many different angles and not just one, because you’ll need lots of different tricks. Terry is well-versed in many things and he never pushed any of us to study just one thing, and encouraged us to explore different tools to find the right applications for the right situations. Always dispense with dogma, in favor of practicality.
Studying at the studio or with Terry is not like a nexus around Terry. He’s created a real school, where many different skills are taught by many different teachers – Terry and other fantastic teachers. And most importantly, it is where plays get put on. That can’t be understated. The T. Schreiber studio is one of the few educational institutions in New York that puts on a season of plays work each year.
The first plays I did in New York were at the Schreiber studio, and still some of the best that I ever did in New York were at the Schreiber Studio, and all of that is because Terry is sincerely committed to training professional actors – not what I call ‘dependents.’ He pushes people to be confident and self-reliant professionals, who can step into any situation and do what they have to do. I remember him literally having the courage to do one thing that a lot of people don’t do, which is confronting people on whether they were taking this seriously, and not just take their money and continue with a therapeutic relationship. To say – you are either pursuing this professionally or committedly or you need to move on. Because it’s no life for anyone who is anything less than obsessed and committed.
Terry is not a shrink. He teaches acting. It can make you laugh, but it’s a distinction that you’d be surprised how often that line gets blurred. Terry’s a practical teacher for practical actors, and I still – daily, in my work – use things that I learned from him and others at the studio. And I still call him all the time and have a continuing dialogue with him, which is the true sign of a great relationship with a teacher.
For all these reasons and for many more – for his unflagging, exhausting spirit, for his Santa Claus laugh, and for his real belief and continuing enthusiasm for the power of theatre – I’m very, very grateful to Terry and the institution of the Schreiber Studio.