The Differences Between Acting on Stage and for Films

by Tiffany Ameh
The classic comedy and tragedy theater masks.

The classic comedy and tragedy theater masks.

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Actors have their individual strengths, weaknesses and assets. Such differences can be key elements in whether or not they become successful and also whether or not they become actors for the stage or film or can adapt to either media. While there are actors who have been successful in both settings, the techniques required for stage and film acting are different and worth noting.

Registering With the Audience

The stage actor must be able to project her voice to the back of the theater so that all patrons can distinguish the words. At the same time, she has to retain her vocal expressiveness, since language is the major source of meaning in theater. The theater actor must also use slightly more exaggerated facial expressions and expansive physical gestures to convey emotions that can be "read" across a distance. In film acting, actors have the microphone clipped to them or close overhead, so vocal expression must be more controlled and "natural." Since the camera is so close, they only need to use the smallest gestures to convey their feelings, usually only needing to "think" the emotion for it to register in their facial expressions and body language.

Physical Appearance

An actor is less limited by his physical appearance when working in the theater. Because a play is viewed at a distance, an older actor may portray a younger character onstage, as long as he's in good physical shape and physically and vocally expressive. A younger actor may portray an older character as long as his voice and body language fit the role. Wigs, costumes and makeup help theater actors to physically resemble their characters. In film acting, the audience sees the actor close up. While makeup and special effects may be used to age a character during the course of a film, in general, the actor must resemble the character closely in age and appearance.

Continuity of Performance

The stage actor plays her part in a logical progression as the plot unfolds, which requires intense concentration and physical energy for anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 hours. However, the film actor acts scenes individually and out of sequence, often having to do multiple takes and may spend a lot of time simply waiting to shoot a scene. As a result, the film actor must be ready at any moment to reproduce the appropriate emotion called for in a given scene, keeping in mind how that scene fits in the overall storyline of the film.

Character Creation

In the theater, rehearsals are scheduled for a month or more, during which the psychological facets of each character are explored and stage movements are “blocked” before the actual performance. In film, there may be no set rehearsals. The director may prefer to speak to each actor individually before a scene or simply go over the physical action required. Film directors often want some spontaneity, which makes structured rehearsals less necessary.

About the Author

Tiffany Ameh has been writing articles since 2009. She attended California Baptist University in 2004 and is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in holistic nutrition at El Camino College.

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