The Authentic Actor/Teacher: Lessons from Broadway on how to create dynamic learning environments

February 21, 2016


“The audience is always part of the performance, if they think something is funny then you’ll play to them. If they think something is serious you’ll stay on it longer before leaving so you don’t rob them of that experience. That’s what makes it unique."  -K.K Barrett (Director)


Performance and teaching go hand in hand. Effective teachers are always performing and good performers are constantly teaching. In both cases, the example of presenting your “authentic self” is what ultimately connects the stage to the classroom. And why shouldn’t it?


Good actors have the ability to make you forget they are acting. There is a term in theatre called the suspension of disbelief where as an observer, you temporarily pause reality and allow yourself to believe in the imaginary circumstances being presented to you on stage. This is a silent agreement between the actor and the audience. Truly talented actors have the ability to make you forget about this agreement. They have the ability to make you forget that they are acting. This is a skill that takes an enormous amount of training, time, skill, technique, and talent. Nothing destroys the suspension of disbelief more quickly than an actor who is trying to act or trying to force a performance. Performances that lack this sense of authenticity only serve to widen the gulf between the actor and the audience. Suddenly, the audience is fully aware they are sitting in a theatre watching a performer fake their way through an imaginary set of circumstances that no one believes in.


To me, teaching is the same thing. It uses the same set of skills that take an enormous amount of training, time, technique, and talent. In essence, good teachers have the ability to make you forget they are teaching. The suspension of disbelief creates an environment where observers become students, reality is temporarily paused, and we allow ourselves to believe in the set of circumstances being presented to us. Similar to a theatrical context, nothing destroys the suspension of disbelief more quickly than a teacher who is forcing a performance from a place that is unauthentic. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in the lecture hall and witnessed the complete destruction of the relationship between teacher and students because suddenly the teacher is trying to teach. Trying to force a learning objective through some type of prescriptive method that robs the students of a genuine learning experience.

Authenticity is a difficult thing. Too much and you come off over exuberant, too little and you come off fake. Authenticity essentially means presenting your true self, in the moment, in the context of what you are presenting. On stage, you are creating an imaginary world and reacting to that world as truthfully as possible. In the class room, you are creating a learning environment and responding to that environment as honestly as you can. The audience will always recognize a fake. Be it a fake performance or a fake lecture.


To help discover ways of being authentic in the classroom, I present to you 33 Tips from Established Actors from the acting and casting publication



  1. Find the joy

  2. Study, study, study

  3. Don’t worry about what the casting director (student) is thinking

  4. Risk failure to make truthful discoveries

  5. Believe in your goals

  6. Loosen up in the audition room (classroom)

  7. Put faith in your Director

  8. Treat auditions like rehearsals

  9. Follow what you love

  10. Pay attention to what you know

  11. Auditioning is an opportunity to practice

  12. Draw from personal experiences to make characters (learning objectives) resonate

  13. Go ahead and produce your own work

  14. Make the role yours

  15. Lighten up and have fun

  16. Share your inner uniqueness

  17. Accept and utilize your bullshit

  18. Avoid desperation

  19. Get a thick skin

  20. Enjoy the collaboration

  21. Push yourself beyond what you think you know

  22. Don’t just dream

  23. Cultivate self-awareness in the audition room (classroom) and in life

  24. Don’t try to be someone else

  25. Tackle every role with a different technique

  26. Realize auditioning (teaching) is terrifying and deal with it

  27. Explore the world outside acting (teaching)

  28. It’s OK to get a little lost

  29. Create characters from the outside in

  30. Invent a thorough backstory to reach catharsis

  31. Find other creative outlets

  32. Don’t forget promotion is as important as acting (teaching) itself

  33. Write your own parts

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