Acting has been around for centuries and over time evolved into different forms. One popular form is acting for the screen. While traditional theatre tells stories from start to finish, performing the same show each night for a different audience, film and television are produced by stitching together scenes, often doing take after take until it’s just right.
Although screen and stage acting require similar skills, there are a lot of differences that may not seem obvious at first. Laura Carson and Julia Pace Mitchell, teaching artists at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA), share their thoughts on the two acting styles and tricks of the trade.
Preparation: Whether acting on the big screen or in front of an audience of several hundred people, both mediums require a similar amount of preparation. Actors research their character’s backstories and the context of the scenes they are in, to understand the motivations and emotions of their characters and bring authenticity to their performance.
- Rehearsals: Rehearsals are also similar. Memorization, blocking, and bringing focus to the room are the same. “I’m a big believer in being prepared for your lines and hitting your mark,” Carson shared. “But also being available to live in the moment both on stage and on-camera.”
- Networking: Like any profession, it’s about who you know. Building relationships on set and within the theatre is critical. Good actors, directors and designers find each other and open doors to new opportunities.
- Presence: One of the starkest contrasts between the stage and the screen is the space. Stage actors are talented with their voices and bodies, projecting and capturing the attention of the back row and often working with other actors on stage to tell a story. Though true for film and television as well, the inner life of a character must be more fleshed out. “You must create space that isn’t there,” Pace Mitchell explains. “Sometimes there’s a camera in your face, and you’re crying to a tennis ball to convince the audience you’re talking to someone when your scene partner isn’t there.”
- Scripts: Plays rely heavily on dialogue to progress the plot, whereas screenplays often have pages describing the action and transitions. It points to the idea that filmmaking is visual storytelling. Carson calls it the difference between showing and sharing. “In theatre, you show the performance to the audience, whereas, in film, you have to share the story and the emotions.”
- Technical Elements: While both forms rely on a crew, the job duties vary depending on whether they are on set or backstage. Run crew as they are sometimes called, are responsible for moving set pieces on and off stage, assisting in quick changes and queueing up lights and sound during a performance. While actors must be mindful of all the moving pieces backstage, the cast is still the primary element. On a film set, 20 crew members could support one or two actors with mics, cameras, lighting and effects, hair and makeup checks and more.
“TV and film are such collaborative mediums,” Carson emphasizes. “Every single department is critical to the success of the project. You’re a cog in a machine, and there’s so much satisfaction in having the technical muscle to hit your mark, move to the camera and do whatever you need to support the camera department that day.”
If you’re interested in learning more about film and television, consider taking a spring class at the DCPA. Both Carson and Pace Mitchell are teaching On-Camera sessions and have a wealth of information to share. If you can’t wait until then, check out these tips:
- Study! The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has hundreds of conversations with actors, casting directors and producers. Watch them on YouTube. What’s popular in the industry? For example, self-tape auditions are on the rise, so it’s important to learn how to do them well. Look for videos from casting directors that provide tips and tricks for self-taping.
- Familiarize Yourself! Watch as many films and TV shows as you can, especially previous Emmy and Oscar winners. Pay attention to the acting styles and techniques and make note of what made them stand out in the industry.
- Practice! The best way to improve your on-camera acting skills is to practice. Find a scene from your favorite movie or TV show, set up your phone on a tripod or against a book and record yourself performing.
- Collaborate! Acting is a collaborative medium, so it’s important to find other actors you can work with to practice your skills and improve your craft. Check out local meetups for actors or join a class to make new connections.
- Seek Opportunities! Look for opportunities to perform in student films, create your own web series or audition for commercials. Just get in front of the camera.
DCPA Education Spring Session
Classes begin in April