Local instructor offers classes for kids, the curious

By Sean O’Connell

Helen Kearney Konen was an 18-year-old music major at Orange Coast College in California when she auditioned for the lead role in a summer production of “My Fair Lady.”

As the applicant pool drained, Konen found she was neck-and-neck with Diane Hall, a rival student with Broadway experience on her resume. “I love her,” said Konen, “(but) she came back (from New York) knowing she was going to get the role because of her reputation.” It wasn’t meant to be. Konen ended up winning the part. As for Hall, she moved on with her career, changing her name to Keaton and writing herself into Hollywood history.

“I don’t think she’s crying over it anymore,” said Konen with a laugh. The audition, on the other hand, was a turning point for Konen. It proved to her that she could act, and started her down a serious career path that currently has her teaching acting classes in Charlotte.

 Possibilities realized

Setting the Stage is Konen’s latest endeavor, a series of acting classes and workshops for adults and children that she conducts each season at Theatre Charlotte’s facility on Queens Road.

“Teaching came out of my love of directing,” said Konen, who taught for Theatre Charlotte’s education department until that program was disbanded almost two years ago. Convinced she still could make a difference, Konen has struck off on her own. She presides over small classes populated by six to 10 students, maximum. Her pupils range from “absolute beginners” to stage-proven performers.

“Most adults that come to me are not actors,” she said. “They want to do something fun and different. What they take away from it, or so they tell me, is they’re better able to communicate with clients. They learn to read people, and they get more self-esteem. In these classes, they step out of the comfort zone, and they see what can happen. They see possibilities realized.

“You can not help but learn about yourself when you take an acting class.”

 Method of acting

Konen’s family moved to Charlotte when she was five. She started acting in grade school but didn’t get serious until she graduated from Charlotte Catholic and moved west to Southern California, where she continued to feed the acting bug.

For years, Konen stayed connected to the stage. She consistently performed, wrote or directed for community and professional groups. Upon her return to Charlotte, which she always considered home, Konen inquired about possible openings in Theatre Charlotte’s administration offices and landed a teaching gig.

“I teach from a director’s standpoint, and I direct from an acting coach’s standpoint,” Konen said. “I always tell everyone that the most important thing is connecting with the other (performers) and reacting to what they are doing. Acting, in a nutshell, is reacting honestly to what someone else is saying to you or doing.”

Because Konen concentrates on honest reaction, her teaching method is applicable to stage or film performance. She has coached several local actors for film and television auditions. One of her younger students will soon be seen in the James Garner drama “The Ultimate Gift,” filmed in Charlotte last year.

“I’m not a big-stage movement type of person,” Konen said. “I like good, real, honest acting.” She rattles off Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Kevin Spacey as modern actors she’d epitomize. “(Streep) can basically do anything because she finds herself in whatever she is doing.”

This interactive, hands-on approach works very well for Konen’s youngest students. Her child classes accept participants age 8 to 18. When you take students younger than 8, said Konen, you “end up playing traffic cop.”

She relies heavily on comedy with her kids. She tries improvisational scenes to build on emotions with which the kids can connect. “There’s still things they already have experienced,” she said. “They’ve been sad. They’ve been hurt by other people. They didn’t get what they wanted.

“I love acting. I love the process. I love showing people how to do the process. Especially with the kids I love seeing and growing their dreams.”

Not every kid aspires to commercials. Konen said there are young students who “have just opened up within the class, and gained confidence and social interacting and the ability to speak. That’s scary for everybody, but especially for kids.”

 Showcase of skills

Each of Konen’s semesters will conclude with a performance showcase, so that Konen’s students will understand the process of working toward a show and enjoy the sensation of acting in front of an actual audience.

The first showcase was held Friday, Nov. 17 at Theatre Charlotte. Konen wrote parts for each student with their strengths and personalities in mind.

“(It) was way too long,” she admits, “but I was trying to give everybody many different things to do.” Talent agents and scouts mingled with family members in the audience.

Konen’s next training sessions begin Jan 29. They will run for 10 weeks, and conclude with a showcase on April 20. Auditions for placement in her advanced studio classes will be held Jan. 13. She also plans to conduct a three-week acting session for adults in February.

Rates vary for the different instruction levels, so contact Konen at 704-540-7781 or visit for more information.




Helen Kearney Konen

Theater teacher
Published 06.04.08

in Creative Loafing

Helen Kearney Konen is all about theater: from acting to directing, writing skits and teaching. She offers acting workshops, day camps and private coaching to preteens, teens and adults.

When Konen got the part of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., it altered her direction in life. After beating actress Diane Keaton for the part she decided to major in theater. She went on to earn her B.A. in Theater Arts at California State University-Long Beach.

Some of Konen's favorite actors and actresses are Robert De Niro, Kevin Spacey, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Reese Witherspoon. Her favorite movies include Walk the Line, The Queen and Polish Wedding.

"My focus is on real, honest acting whether it's on stage or on camera. I tell people the way I teach would be camera-ready. It is much more focused on reacting and connecting with other actors," says Konen.

"People can have talent or not have talent, but I think there are many people with potential that's just untapped. If I see potential in somebody then my job is to bring that spark out and show them how to bring it out and make it into something," says Konen. For more information, check out

Contact Helen:

For more information,  
e-mail:                     or,

or call Helen at:  704.540.7781  
or 704.517.6186
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