Whether acting for the screen or on the stage, the core of the craft is essentially the same. Both offer actors the ability to live their dream of performing, enchanting audiences as they tell the story with their skills and talent. Many actors will enjoy the experience of performing on both stage and film during their careers. In fact, the willingness and ability to perform in either setting is often they key to finding success as an actor. But while film and theater acting are very similar in many ways, there are some notable differences. Deciding which one you prefer could help guide you towards reaching your ultimate goals. Here are some differences to keep in mind when trying to decide which path to pursue.
In theater, the scenes and locations are created by talented set designers who create elaborate temporary backdrops that are changed and rotated behind the curtain as the story unfolds. Because the performance is confined to a single stage, the number and complexity of these sets can be limited, relying on the actors to tell the complete story of what may have happened elsewhere. Special effects take place at the moment they’re needed, the score is played live, and everything that the audience sees or hears is live.
In contrast, a film can have many sets and locations, including expansive studio sets and outdoor or on-location filming. There is also the possibility of acting in front of a green screen, with the backgrounds added in later via computer. Soundtracks and some special effects are often added in post-production, forcing the actors to imagine or visualize elements that aren’t actually there at the time of filming.
On the stage, each performance gives you just one chance to deliver the perfect line or scene. Any mistakes are made in front of a live audience, and the show must continue seamlessly and without interruption. There are no second chances – until the next night, with a clean slate, in front of a new audience.
In film, mistakes can be fixed by simply doing another take, repeating the scene until it’s just right. While some actors much prefer the ability to work with multiple takes, noting that it allows them to experiment and take risks without fear of failure, other actors prefer the continuity of a single “shot”, feeling that they can better get into character and can improvise if they fumble a line.
A Different Flow
When performing on the stage, the actors follow the story just as the audience sees it, from the beginning straight through to the end. In other words, the stage actor performs the story in chronological sequence, with their performance beginning with the first scene, developing as the story unfolds, and concluding as the curtain falls.
This is rarely the case with film acting. Instead, scenes are often filmed out of sequence. Some actors may find this method to be more difficult, as they feel the lack of flow hinders character development and continuity. On the other hand, other actors appreciate the opportunity to devote their attention to particular scenes, and feel that isolating the scenes helps them to focus.
Degrees of Subtlety
On screen, the camera catches everything: every facial tic, slight hand gesture, or whispered word. Acting for film requires incredible control of the most minute movements or facial expressions, and demands the ability to convey emotion and develop a character through these subtle physical cues.
Stage acting is quite another story. On the stage, while you may have a microphone, there are no cameras to zoom in on your face to give the audience a close-up. You have to project the feeling, emotion, and behavior of your character in a manner that’s animated and dramatic enough to leave no question as to what you’re conveying – even to audience members that may be seated all the way in the back row. In musical theatre, your acting will also rely on your ability to express your character and story through song. Your voice must also be strong, able to project and carry clearly to all in the crowd.
Do you have a preference for film acting vs. stage acting, or do you love both? Tell us why in the comments!