How To Break the Fourth Wall And Why You Should

There’s a term used in acting called “the fourth wall”, which is defined as the imaginary “wall” that exists between actors and the audience, whether the audience is sitting in front of the stage or at home behind the camera.

But there is another way I would like to describe the fourth wall. I would refer to the fourth wall as a wall keeping you, the actor, from engaging with the audience.

There are various reasons why there might seem to be no connection between you and the audience. I want to address them and then talk about how those walls can be torn down. These walls are internal issues that may be holding you back from really engaging. In some cases it’s on the audience whether or not you seem to be connecting with them.

But in most cases it’s just you. First things first:

Let’s get physical… physical

Physical health is important.

To really make deep connections with your audience and really break that fourth wall it’s important to be on top of your game and ready for anything. The obvious applies, get enough sleep usually about 6-8 hours is recommended. Consistency is also key for getting a good night’s rest.

You should wake up and go to sleep around the same time every day. This along with the amount of sleep will help you feel the most rested and refreshed, ready to take on those connections with your audience.

The next thing to examine is your mental health.

Maintain that beautiful mind of yours

Once you’ve reached the perfection of human physicality, or as close as you can get, the time has come to work on your mind.

Keeping your noodle sharp and clear is quite important if your goal is to connect with others. It’s the foundation for the next bits of psychology which are important to learn. Nice thing about keeping healthy physically is it will help you mentally. The two go hand-in-hand.

Some things to look out for is over-thinking and anxiety. These will distract you from making strong choices as an actor and pull your focus inward. They will act as walls that keep you from engaging effectively. To connect and break those walls your focus needs to be outward, which is why it’s important to…

Get out of your head…er, “mind palace”

I love the show Sherlock. The fourth season that just came out wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but it was still entertaining. Episode three of season two for the win! Anyway, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is a great example of what not to do as an actor.

The man was great at solving puzzles and crime scenes, but he didn’t know two things about engaging with other humans. Being concealed in the contents of his mind palace the outside world doesn’t matter as much as what goes on within. Now introspection is a great thing, and should be practiced from time to time. But when your objective is connecting with a ton of people you don’t know through your portrayal of a character, you don’t have time for introspection.

Focusing outward towards those around you, listening to them, sharing with them, that’s how connections are made. And when you’re learning this important skill in life, it will transfer over to your acting.

People will see your focus is outward towards the other actors and the circumstances of the script. That outward focus is the hammer for tearing down that pesky fourth wall.

And when you’ve got the right focus, the next thing to learn is that…

Vulnerability is key

One of the greatest scenes from Good Will Hunting is where Sean (Robin Williams) and Will (Matt Damon) are sitting on a park bench shooting the breeze. Sean confronts Will in an amazing monologue about how he can’t know jack poop about Will if he doesn’t open up about his past.

This goes for the lot of us. If we aren’t ready to be completely vulnerable as ourselves, then how can we hope to do this as our characters and be genuine? One wall to tear down could be a lack of vulnerability. Cause if you ain’t tearin it down like Reagan tore down the Berlin wall in the 90’s then you ain’t doing it right.

Image isn’t everything

Another thing that’s super important to learn is your image isn’t important. Being concerned about what others think about you or obsessing over how you look gets you nowhere and is really just a big waste of time.

When your focus is less on yourself and how you are perceived you are actually able to connect with people a lot better. I tried this myself. I wasn’t aware of this at first, but I came to realise I cared about my appearance and others’ opinions so much I had to act perfect. Or “keep face”, as it’s commonly called.

Living this way stifled my connections with people and affected my acting. That’s why it’s important not to take yourself so seriously. You can’t be all that you can be if you’re trying to match this high standard of image you’ve set for yourself.

As an actor, you gotta look pretty silly sometimes. And if your concern is more about your image then this will be difficult to accomplish.

The beauty of letting go of these things is that people don’t want to see a perfect you, they want to know the real, imperfect you.

For these various things, the glue that holds it all together is whether or not you want to connect with other people. How much do you want to share your experiences, your emotions and thoughts? How much do you want to break that fourth wall and convey the meaning of the performance?

For me, the above ideas have really helped me connect with other people, and has bettered my acting because of it. Try these different things out. You and others may be surprised by how engaging your performance becomes.


  • Keaton is an actor and writer who works with the Initiative Production Company in Brisbane, Australia. Native to Alaska, he enjoys staring at the stars while contemplating the meaning of life.


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