I do about 75% Film and 25% Theatre in my acting work.
Since I have experience in both environments, I decided to write a comparison for the benefit of other actors.
Although the styles differ markedly, I'm a firm believer that a Film actor's performance benefits from Theatre work, and I highly recommend it.
Theatre for the Film Actor
by Lloyd Kremer
Copyright © 2000, All Rights Reserved.
I consider myself to be a Film actor, and I always present myself as such. But I like to be “a Film actor who occasionally does Theatre.” I find that an occasional drink from the fountain of Live Theatre helps keep my acting more organic and precise.
Of course Theatre acting is very different from Film acting; they're
virtually two separate art forms. Beyond the obvious demands of live
First, the required breadth of acting differs markedly. In Theatre, the actor must “play to the back row,” while in Film, “the camera sees everything.” When your face is ten feet high on the silver screen, a raised eyebrow is a major dramatic gesture. “You have but to think it, and it is done.”
Ask any film director about this distinction. “They give me models that pose. They give me Theatre people whose acting is away too big. Can I please have some experienced FILM ACTORS?”
Theatre is also much more demanding of the various vocal disciplines: volume, projection, and enunciation. In Film work, many of these concerns are relegated to the Sound Man.
In Theatre, the actor is encouraged to “make good use of the
stage,” with choreographed movement, blocking, and crossing. In Film,
I have my own personal list of Film to Theatre transition problems. I hit them all over again on every Theatre outing.
For one, I have a habit of pausing to reflect on the previous stimulus, such as the other actor's line, before responding with my own. That works great in Film, where the two sides of a conversation are usually shot separately. My reflective pauses can be either kept or cut during post-production editing. In Theatre I'm told (very nicely) that I'm slow on the cues.
I also receive constant directorial reminders regarding my vocal projection. “There's no microphone, Lloyd. I need volume...”
Finally, in Theatre everything is Stage Left and Stage Right. In Film everything is Camera Left and Camera Right. When I work on both types of project concurrently, I look like an idiot who doesn't know which is which.
In fact this simple directional reversal betrays two significantly different
sets of industry jargon. You almost have to learn two complete vocabularies,
one for Film (MCU man, zoom out and pan, stop on a
So why should Film actors get involved with Theatre at all?
For the exercise, literally. By way of analogy, I can hold my arm at rest by my side. I can then pick up a training weight and do a few curls, thereafter returning the arm to its original rest position. Although the arm is again in the same position as before, it's now a better arm for having been exercised and run through its full range of motion.
In his excellent book, No Acting Please, the famous acting coach Eric Morris insists, “The Unconscious is where your talent lives.” And that's what Theatre does for the Film actor: it exercises the subconscious. On return to your Film work, your acting will retain the many subconscious benefits of the excursion through its full theatrical range.
Having been exercised in the Theatre, your Film acting will be less fabricated and more organic, your dominant condition less ambiguous and more precise both in text and subtext, your entire performance less like reading and more like Being. No longer merely superficial veneers, your characterizations will benefit from the underlying support of all the subtle colorizations of a developed subconscious.
Best of all, these improvements will occur automatically, largely without your being aware of them. Even if you make no (conscious) adjustment whatever to your Film acting, the subconscious has been stretched. It remembers.
A parting thought: Film is primarily a Director's medium. Television is primarily a Producer's medium. Only in live Theatre do the Actors themselves create the performance night after night with their own bodies, minds, voices, and emotions.
So, “Break a leg,” everybody! Then you'll be “in a cast.” Get it?