From reluctant actress to sought-after acting coach: Ria Pavia draws on her wide-ranging career to help others shine

Pavia shares about her transformative Interlochen journey and why she’s so excited to be teaching a new course for Interlochen Online.

A smiling director poses with a clapperboard in front of camera equipment.

Ria Pavia (IAA 83-85) was 11 years old when her mom encouraged her to audition for the lead in Sorcerer’s Apprentice at the community theatre in Rochester, New York where they lived. Initially unwilling to test out her acting skills, Pavia eventually gave in and tried out.

“I was cast in the role of a broom,” she laughs. “You know, for my grand coming into myself!” 

While she definitely hadn’t gotten the lead part, that role as a broom ended up sparking a lifelong passion in Pavia—one that would take her from high school at Interlochen to a diverse career in acting, writing, directing, and coaching. Her passion eventually carried her back to her alma mater, and she’s now teaching a course for Interlochen Online that draws from her wide-ranging experiences to empower actors of all ages. 

“My role as a broom ended up being the most amazing experience because I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I really love this whole community theater thing!’”

Exploring her talents at Interlochen and beyond

Pavia had been bitten by the theatre bug, and it wasn’t going to let her go. In the following years, she attended Interlochen Arts Academy for high school as a Theatre major. The experience changed her forever. 

“Being immersed with your amazing instructors and fellow students 24/7 is such a magical opportunity. My instructors were ridiculously skilled, patient, and collaborative,” she remembers. 

At Interlochen, Pavia expanded her capacities in the theatre world: “I had the opportunity to not just act, but also write. I wrote my first one-act play when I was 15 years old. I'm in the Writers Guild of America now. It's amazing how it all started there.” 

After Interlochen, Pavia sought out additional training with the legendary Sanford Meisner in the West Indies, and then went to UCLA to study Theatre, TV & Film. Post-college, she launched a burgeoning career as an actress in television commercials, guest spots, and film roles—even collaborating with the likes of Noah Wyle, Jennifer Aniston, and Mark Ruffalo. 

Finding fulfillment as a “cast whisperer” 

Pavia’s career pivoted and took on deeper meaning in the years that followed, when she had three children of her own. The owner of the Montessori school where her kids attended approached Pavia, asking if she’d be interested in directing 50 students in the school play, Willy Wonka.

“I loved it so much that I did 12 more plays and musicals over the next 8 years,” says Pavia. 

Soon she developed a reputation for her exceptional skills in working with young casts. Her reputation as a “cast whisperer” made its way to L.A., and suddenly she was called to pursue it professionally. 

Since then, Pavia has been the acting coach on Grown-ish and Disney’s Descendants franchise. For her, coaching in this way is incredibly fulfilling, especially when she gets to work with individual artists. 

“I really like the one-on-one, intimate experience of creating with just one other person,” she says. “I'm helping that human to find their truth as an actor or actress. I have a wide breadth of experience that has allowed me to do that, and I don't take it for granted.” 

I really like the one-on-one, intimate experience of creating with just one other person. I'm helping that human to find their truth as an actor or actress. I have a wide breadth of experience that has allowed me to do that, and I don't take it for granted.

Ria Pavia

Becoming an award-winning director—and creating her own Interlochen course

Pavia had found success in acting and coaching, but there was more she wanted to learn. The executive producers on Grown-ish saw potential in her and urged her to launch a directing career with her own short film. Her debut creation, Second Team, garnered 16 awards at various prestigious festivals.

“It really set me up for success as a director, and I signed with a manager and an agent. From there, I started taking various meetings with executives from studios and I landed a directing gig on General Hospital, which will be airing December 27.” 

Pavia sees more directing in her future, but she says her favorite gig will always be coaching—setting other actors and actresses up for success through in-person sessions or over Zoom. She gets to draw on some of these coaching skills as an instructor for her course with Interlochen Online, Auditioning for TV and Film. The course focuses on self taping, a vital skill to have in a broad range of acting careers. It covers everything from understanding technical specifications to making strong acting choices, as well as how to prepare yourself for a successful taping session and make sure your framing is industry-standard. Pavia says her course is for individuals in all walks of life. Whether it’s a teenager who’s looking to land some new roles, a retiree who wants to start doing voice overs for commercials, or even a relatively established actor who already has an agent, her course has plenty to offer. 

Pavia is thrilled to be back at Interlochen, sharing her skills at the place that shaped her high school journey so profoundly. 

“I really love that I'm able to bring it all full circle because I truly believe in the depths of my soul that Interlochen is a huge part of who I am. It shaped me in ways I can't even describe. To be able to come back to where I discovered this joy of creatively collaborating is nothing short of magical.” 

Learn more about Ria Pavia's course, Auditioning for TV and Film.