While some people may expect little difference between performing in front of a camera and performing in front of an audience, a lot of actors find the transition extremely difficult. But what is the main thing that makes the two mediums so different? Let’s talk about some of those distinctions you might not have realized.
First, the most obvious difference is the audience. On stage, everything is slightly altered to be best presented and understood by the live audience. Stage actors work to express themselves in a way that the audience can clearly understand. From a technical standpoint, stage actors must never face away from the audience or speak in a way where they cannot be heard. They must take into account the barrier that even basic distance creates in perception. On film, viewer perception can be controlled much more easily. The camera can be manipulated to show the viewer angles that allow the actors to worry less about making up for a communication gap.
But outside of mechanics, the audience (or lack thereof) really changes the style of the work itself. The camera sees everything, and is better suited to focusing directly on the internal life of a character. While both fields obviously have their protagonists, film typically follows one character more closely and puts the viewers in that character’s point of view. A camera can more intimately follow the character’s changing emotional state.
In the theater, however, gestures and emotions must be bigger for the audience to detect. This is why theater focuses more on situations than the internal thoughts of a character. The audience only sees what behavior the character presents to whomever is around them in the scene. In turn, the audience serves almost as another character in the performance and knows their public persona more than their thoughts. Despite this, an intelligent audience can detect a character’s true goals by observing how they present themselves. Upon realizing the characters goals, then the audience can detect what goes on within a character. It isn’t as straight-forward as film, but the characterization element is certainly there.
While both styles of performance are so different from each other, it’s hard to say if one could be the most truthful or ‘pure,’ as some claim. While some actors are fiercely loyal to one style, most agree that there is truth to be found in both fields. We love actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Benanti, Lea Michele or Hugh Jackman who seem to have mastered the switch between screen and stage. This distinction between acting styles also makes it interesting to think about those movie stars who make their Broadway debuts in new works– will their talent transfer to a totally new medium? All of these questions are interesting to consider, especially if you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a performer. Which style do you prefer?