The Key Differences Between Screen Acting and Stage Acting

While they might seem similar, the way a performance is presented can have a significant impact on how an actor will approach a piece.  Going beyond just memorizing lines and making sure they know each scene, knowing how the show will be presented can influence more subtle choices that can bring a performance to life.

In this piece, we’ll explore just how those changes can be seen and used in various performances, and why thinking of the audience is always the best way to approach a show.

How Actors Use Gestures

Imagine you’re an actor in a stage performance and you have to give a very sad speech.  To show this sadness, you read your lines very softly, letting a single tear fall down your face.
In a film, such a performance would be incredible, and definitely win over the audience.  But this is a stage performance! With a performance like that in a live show, nobody past the first row can hear you, and nobody past the fifth row can even see what you’re doing.
Stage performances must always keep one word in their minds throughout the show: “Project”.  You can’t perform to the first row, you have to perform for the back row. This means your gestures and anything that indicates your emotion or mood must be vividly exaggerated. It might feel comical while you’re giving the performance, but to the audience, it will be scaled down to fit just right.

How Much to Project Your Voice

Just as with gestures, your voice and vocal volume is a key part of a performance to let the audience know the emotion of a scene or of a line.
With a screen performance, you have the luxury of being able to get the camera in very close to the actors, and allow softly spoken lights to carry a powerful message.
But as we’ve mentioned, in a stage performance, nobody can hear you when you speak softly.
As the old expression goes, say it to the back row.
Stage performances always have to feel larger than life in order to fill the theater they take place in. It might feel tempting to play the scene as though it takes place in a “room”, but you must remember it isn’t really a room, it’s a concert hall.

How Much Actors Prepare

For screen performances, the scenes are usually shot one at a time, and are often not shot in order. This means actors have a little extra luxury of preparing for each scene one at a time and practicing only the lines they need to know that day before the shoot.
Stage actors have no such luxury. The whole show is going to be put on continuously, so actors have to know the whole show from beginning to end, and have to be able to go seamlessly from one scene to the next.
This means that stage actors prepare much more rigorously for their shows, as they must carry a lot more information in their heads before the show goes on.For more information about acting and how fun it is to explore what it means to put on shows, explore the Summer at SEM Theater Program, and see what types of cool shows you can perform this summer!