What is Need Theory?

Being born is met with great challenges. It is the first and most difficult thing we may ever have to endure. There is a reason why babies don't exit the womb laughing. It's a painful experience. Immediately we are faced with great adversity and must seek solutions to a list of challenges. But we have a friend, instinct. Governed by instinct, a newly born infant, when placed on the mother's belly will squirm and edge its way to her breast to nurse. The infant will do this without being told or knowing how. Deep within its core is a need so strong, to eat and be protected, to survive. To be loved.


It is this deep instinctual need that will motivate everything we say and do throughout our entire lives.


It is this deep instinctual need, I ask my acting students to connect to, so it may serve as a base by which they build the emotional life of the characters they portray. It is a way to calibrate the emotional instrument so that the actor can resonate the text with their own personal truth, removing the sense of obligation that comes along with having to say words that often are not their own.


We build a character up in layers from this starting point. Giving over the feeling, touched by this deep instinctual need, to the journey of the character, his or her motivation and intentions as they exist in the circumstances provided by the scene.


But, how do we get in touch with this deep instinctual need... by recalling a time in our life when we really needed something.


A time where a need that was never met, one that remains unsatiated will be the strongest but one may use most anything to touch the feeling of vulnerability associated with such a time.

What are people saying?

"Chris always had the right words to help my work get better and better. His feedback is always clear and goes straight to the point. He knows how to approach and guide different actors and people in order to make their best qualities come out.

Always stimulating and fun to work with Chris!"

                                                   Michela Hickox / Rome

"Chris McKinney, the most giving coach I’ve ever had! He stands out in the huge pool of coaches because his only interest is you, the actor. He doesn’t give up until you find what you need to get as close as possible to your deepest truth; until you learn how to use everything you have to pass it on to your role. He guides you through difficulties once you get to that sensitive place and gives you freedom in times of pressure. When you stop believing in yourself his belief propels you to a different level. Because of his vast experience as an actor he can give you more tools than one school can teach you. Because of his real interest you feel safe to discover. It was a blessing to work with Chris!"

Sandra Cvetkovic / Munich           

"Chris has been an wonderful influence on my acting training. He is supportive throughout the process of self discovery and balances this with useful, practical tools that gave me the chance to make refined, artistic choices to create exciting material to work with. Rarely do you encounter this combination in a coach."

Vanessa Chama / 

"Chris McKinney is an insightful teacher. He can lead you through a scene and help you mine all the nuggets of gold from the text. The playwright gives you the bones and Chris can help you navigate your way to success."

Heather Spore Kelley /

player in  Wicked

broadway NYC

“On August 7th, 2017, my first class at the Susan Batson Studio in Manhattan was called Industry Prep and I couldn't have asked for a better introduction into this school's approach to working. Chris McKinney, a lead coach at SBS, was teaching that late afternoon and his insight was second to none. He seemed to really know human beings, and it was as though he could see us as people first, the better to communicate and help us through our personal roadblocks. Far from having a more classical approach composed of unfiltered tirades, once a trademark of the revered Adler family, our sessions with Chris were a series of practical conversations aimed at keeping us focused, accepting ourselves and moving forward to create something wonderful with the instrument unique to all of us. His catchphrase was, 'try it again'. Given the chance and the proximity, I will definitely study with him again.” 

Colin Morgan / Spain

"Chris McKinney is adept at guiding the actor/actress along the beats of a scene to the pathway of strong choices. In many ways, he illuminates the possibilities to explore in a scene, while staying rooted in a simple process aimed at listening and reacting."

Brian Kelly / New York 

"Chris is everything you want in an acting coach.  He is patient, smart, and honest.  Chris always offers practical insight to make sound creative choices to help lift characters into life.  He's helped me work through challenging monologues and scripts to best showcase my actor.  If you are interested in doing the real work to take your artist to the next level, I strongly recommend booking a consultation with Chris Mckinney today."

Kendall Glaspie / New York

"Chris McKinney is an intellectual coach after studying with his mentor  Susan Batson and he expands her technique with aplomb. A heart as big  as the ocean he’s a generous coach who looks deep and tries to bring out the best in everyone."

Jacob Wheeler /

"I have been learning under Chris McKinney for a bit under a year now. He has witnessed my development as well as my minor setbacks when I am not always as prepared as I would like to be in class. Chris has always had a way with words. He is able to break things down clearly in a way that is both understandable and applicable to my work. This has greatly benefited my craft - Being able to make quick changes while also working long-term on certain skills, is what I have been able to provide my actor under Chris’s direction. I am thankful and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with him for this long."

Ronelle Thomas / New York

What about me?

Born and raised in NYC, Chris began his work with Susan Batson in 1989 before attending the Juilliard School. The combining of Susan’s innovative method of working from the inside out, to find the emotional need of a character and the traditional theater techniques, focused on breath and relaxation, he learned at Juilliard, continue to serve him well and enrich his craft. Since then, he has been a working actor, featured on many theater, film and television productions.  His work has been featured in productions for HBO, Showtime, NBC, CBS, ABC and the BBC. Theaters in New York include The Public Theater, Manhattan Theater Club, New York Theater Workshop, Classical Theater of Harlem and many others.  His most recent credits include a recurring role as Detective Guzman on Elementary, guest star and starring rolls on Quantico, Blindspot, Chicago P.D., The Night Of, High Maintenance and Brain Dead as well as being a regular guest star on the Law & Order franchise. Chris’ professional experience has allowed him to work alongside such legendary actors as Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman, Steve Buscemi, Sean Penn, Robert Patterson and Jeffrey Wright. Also, with such noted directors as Sidney Pollack, Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian.

I am excited to have been invited by Susan to share my knowledge with the students at SBS, which continues to be a rewarding experience.