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.