Can acting save the world?

by Mike on April 13, 2012 · 4 comments

Teaching a master class at NOCCA

I love what I do. I realize I am so very fortunate. Acting is my chosen career, something that I have essentially committed my life to. I never take it for granted, but sometimes I lose perspective of the fact that this is a very unique lifestyle. You get caught up in the day to day, and forget that the travel, the workspace, the hours, the people — these are not “normal.” The thing is, I wish it were more normal. I wish every man, woman, and child had an opportunity to do what I do.

Touring with The Lion King has given me the valuable chance to meet people in each community we live in.  I’ve read to kids, participated in talk-backs, and led acting workshops and master classes with various schools and organizations. Every time I participate in one of these endeavors, I feel changed .

You see, I believe acting can save the world. A strong statement, I know, but why not? One of my favorite things about acting is pretending I’m another person. It requires research and attention to detail. It also requires that you exercise empathy. In order to create a full, rich, realistic portrayal, you must take great pains to understand the experience of the character you are playing. In my opinion, this is the heart of what it means to be human. To put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and try to see the world through new eyes.

A funny thing happens when you do this: you become more patient, and less judgmental. When I play a character, and the playwright has that character do something despicable, its my job to figure out why. What happened to them to drive them to this behavior? What mistakes have they made in their lives to be driven to such acts? The answers to these and other questions help me to not make the same mistakes in my own life. I am far from perfect, but I know that I am a better person simply because of this exercise. If everyone had this opportunity, I really believe the world would be a better place. Not a perfect place, but a better place.

So I take advantage of every opportunity I have to share what it is I do.

My latest chance here in New Orleans was at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). We drive by this beautiful campus along the Mississippi River in the Faubourg Marigny every time we head into the French Quarter. NOCCA is a professional arts training center for high school students, and boasts quite a list of alumni including Harry Connick Jr. and the Marsalis Brothers. Founded in 1973, the school offers part-time classes in creative writing, dance, media arts, music, theater arts, and visual arts, with a summer culinary arts program (Emeril is on the faculty!) while the students are enrolled in high schools across the city. I was invited to speak to the music theater students there by Jackson Knowles, who is the Director of Community Development. She put me in touch with Blake Coheley, the chair of the Musical Theater department and we decided on a time for me to come in to work with the students.

I had a blast. These students are all very serious about performing, and most seemed poised to enter into conservatory schools for acting. I spoke to them in a beautiful rehearsal/dance studio and took them through a movement warm-up and some exercises to develop characters through physicalization.

I ended by having them work on some gorilla movement from when I performed in Tarzan on Broadway. The three hours at NOCCA flew, and they had to practically drag me away in mid-sentence, which is hard when I get on a roll!

These New Orleans students are full of promise. I impressed upon them that acting not only takes talent, but continuous hard work and persistence. It’s not a “normal” life, but it truly is a rewarding one. And can they, as actors, help save the world? Most definitely.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan M. April 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm

The world is surely a better place with well-trained actors! Thanks for posting this Mike!


ANGELIQUE April 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm



Anita April 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Right on!


Candace Lewis May 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Hi, my friend and I are working on a project called the SEW project. SEW stands for Stephanie Elizabeth Williams. Stephanie passed away six months ago, and in her honor, we are creating a series of videos about young adults who suffer losses. The latest video is about me because I lost my home in Hurricane Katrina. I was a student at NOCCA when the hurricane happened. In the process of making the video, we got a lot of shots of my house and of the city, but we didn’t get a good shot of NOCCA. We were wondering if you would mind if we used your picture of the building and the courtyard in our video. Please let us know. If you have any questions, you may email me at


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