Social Anxiety? Acting Class Can Help

Acting teacher Terry Knickerbocker explains how actor training can lower anxiety

Posted May 17, 2019

 Terry Knickerbocker Studio.
Terry Knickerbocker working with students.
Source: Terry Knickerbocker Studio.

Social anxiety negatively affects every area of people’s lives. It can hurt them professionally, limits them romantically, and damage their friendships. While group therapy is an effective treatment for reducing social anxiety, there is another invention that can deliver astonishing transformations: acting class.

I sat down with Terry Knickerbocker, Director of Knickerbocker Studio, an acclaimed acting school in New York City. Terry has coached actors on over 300 films, television and theater projects, both on and off-Broadway and regionally, in addition to consulting with playwrights and screenwriters, and coaching Oscar-winning actor Sam Rockwell.

Can you explain how acting classes benefit someone with social anxiety?

In my experience, being too self-involved often triggers social anxiety. Not that people who feel anxious in social situations are narcissists — but they tend to have their attention turned inward rather than outward. When your attention is on yourself, you get anxious. However, when your attention is focused on another person or an activity, your anxiety usually dissipates.

As humans, we are hardwired to connect. The problem is, when we’re worried about connecting, we’re inherently making ourselves unavailable to do so. People with social anxiety are worried about the future rather than the now — “What should I say next? What if I say something that makes me look dumb/silly?” “What if they don’t like me?”

Learning to be present and a better listener is a big part of our actor training. Being in the moment and building an experience organically — be it a conversation or scene — is the quickest and simplest way to catapult yourselves out of an anxious headspace and into contact with another human being.

The Sanford Meisner approach to acting, which we teach at the studio, also draws on the idea of play. Acting is a form of playing with someone else. It’s hard to be anxious under those circumstances. (Think small children fully engaged in play- not a lot of anxiety for the most part.)

What tools would they gain from an acting class that they can apply in life?

Students at the studio learn to be extremely good listeners. They become more self-aware and in touch with their feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. They learn how to improvise from moment to moment and to be present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Our students learn how to identify and vocalize their thoughts and feelings in real time. They learn how to read intonation and body language. We urge them to foster curiosity around, and hold space for, the effect they’re having others. Good acting training encourages humanity, empathy, and self-awareness.

This training is a very personal and individual journey of self-discovery. For example, our students might explore something that excites them, makes them mad, or feel romantic. With greater self-knowledge comes greater self-confidence.

Do you need acting experience to take classes at your school?

We seek students who are diverse, generous, curious, collaborative, open-hearted, spirited, uncompromising, and real. The work we do at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio exemplifies impeccable integrity, joyous practice, bold choices, and a lively sense of play.

This technique is unique in that it gives actors a blueprint by which to expand their understanding of themselves as artists and human beings. It celebrates the fact that we are each individual with our own unique life experiences. Unlike other Conservatory Programs, TKS aims to mold non-cookie-cutter artists who can play any role they’re handed.

Many of our students come to us with significant previous training and impressive resumes, but there’s another group with no experience whatsoever. In fact, here’s a blog article which is written by a current student about this very topic: How Can I Get Into Acting With No Experience. We have a beginner class, a summer class, and a two-year intensive class.

What do you recommend for someone who is interested in taking classes at Knickerbocker Studios?

All admission is done by an in-person or Skype interview.  We’d love to meet you and hear about your goals, even if you’re anxious. Please visit us at terryknickerbockerstudio.com for more information!