Acting for the screen vs. the stage

The differences between acting for the screen and acting for the stage can make it difficult to master each technique. But if you understand the differences, and take time to practice, then you can excel at both! Here are the three main differences between screen and stage acting.


Facial expressions and body language

The biggest difference between acting for stage versus acting for screen is the location of the audience. In a theatre, the audince tends to be far away from the stage, requiring actors to exaggerate facial expressions and gestures so every audience member can see what’s going on. For example, stage actors can’t express sadness with just a single tear, since only the audience members in the front row would see it.

When acting on screen, however, the camera can get extremely close to the actor, which closes the gap between the audience and the actors. Because of the close-up perspective, actors on film must use more subtle, controlled, and natural expressions and body language. Large, exaggerated “stage acting” can look awkward and silly on screen.


Preparation and performance

With live theatre performances, actors have just one chance to get it right! Actors need to insure their lines are memorized and delivered accurately for each performance, with crisp diction and clear enunciation. In musicals, actors must get their notes and lyrics correct on the first try. There are no do-overs during a live theatre performance!

For screen performances, actors have multiple “takes” to get a scene right. If they slur their diction, stumble over a line, or mess up the words, they can do the scene again. Film and television sets have microphones everywhere on the set to pick up the lines. In post-production, actors frequently go back to re-record lines to fix any errors that they made during filming.


Expect the unexpected

Despite all of the preparation that goes into a stage production, actors need to be quick on their feet in case something goes wrong (which, in theatre, it often does!). A missed cue, a forgotten prop, a dropped line or a wardrobe malfunction–no matter what, the show must go on! Giving live performances can be taxing on stage actors. They must deliver the same performance with new energy each time they perform. 

In film, performances do not happen in real time or sequence. Due to budgetary concerns, time of day, or weather, an actor may have to perform an intense scene with lots of running and screaming immediately followed by a sad scene with deep emotions. There is little time in between to mentally “re-set” which can be emotionally draining. Screen actors must also deal with impromptu script changes, sometimes memorizing a whole new section of script on the fly.


Both acting for the stage and the screen can be rewarding experiences, and with some practice, skilled actors can expertly switch between the techniques required from each environment.


Interested in acting for TV and movies?

Check out PAA’s summer camp, Acting for the Screen!

1 Comment

  1. David

    This was very helpful and Interesting.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Awards and Accolades

Performing Arts Education

501(c)3 EIN – 45-4372479

Performing Arts Academy is creating community, building character, and inspiring excellence through performing arts education by bringing the transformative power of theatre to all people.

GuideStar is the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.

Katie Reid Milazzo

Katie is thrilled to be returning to her beautiful home state of Colorado after 15 years away performing and teaching professionally, and she is very excited to be joining PAA! National Tours: South Pacific (Nellie Forbush), 'S Wonderful (Jane), Annie (Ronnie Boylan). Regional: Last Five Years (Cathy), Marvelous Wonderettes (Missy), Princess and the Pea (Queen u/s), Land of Forgotten Toys (Queen), Full Monty (Pam), Ordinary Days (Claire), B’way: The Big Band Years (featured singer), Sweeney Todd, The Who's Tommy. BFA Musical Theater from The University of Oklahoma. In Chicago, Katie taught and directed at several performing arts programs, directing/music directing over 20 shows with ages K - 12. She especially loves working one on one with students and believes in the transformative power of theater for everyone!


McKensey Struzik

McKensey graduated from Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts with a BA in Acting and a Minor in Musical Theatre in 2016.  Since, she has taught children’s theatre at various studios in Virginia as well as in Colorado.  She has taught dance, private voice and group acting classes as well as choreographed, music directed many productions.  She has tap danced for 17 years and had the opportunity to study under tap dancers such as Savion Glover, Chloe Arnold, Maude Arnold, and Jason Janas.  She is thrilled to teach tap with PAA this year and can’t wait to get started.

Melanie Ware

Melanie has been with PAA as their Properties Master for six years and teaching classes for five. Melanie received her BA in Theatre from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in May of 2016. Between Acting, Directing and Properties Design she has roughly 12 years of theatrical experience. Favorite PAA design credits include: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown!, Tarzan, Mary Poppins and The Addams Family.