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Stage vs. Screen: What is Right for You?

Screen acting and stage acting differ in important ways. For that reason, after mastering either one, it may still be difficult to transition to the other. Understanding the differences between screen and stage acting can inform your practice and help you thrive in both. The following are some of the crucial ways in which these two types of acting vary.

1. Characters

The nature of the characters in screen and stage performance is a major difference between these types of acting. Audiences and critics will compare your performance to that of previous actors who acted in the same role. Theatre audiences rarely approve of a character deviating too far from the familiar archetype.

As a stage actor, you often play a character that's been played multiple times, so your approach to portraying a character is often not as flexible as that of your on-screen counterparts. With screen acting, you're likely the only actor who will play your character. The novelty of the role allows you to employ a flexible approach to your performance.

2. Multiple Takes

Screen acting involves multiple takes, which gives you more opportunities to refine your performance. Furthermore, the ability to use multiple takes allows the director to shoot different parts of a scene separately. Doing so gives the editor more material to work with and manipulate to further improve the final product. In contrast, stage actors have a lot more control over the audience because they perform in real-time. For these reasons, stage and screen performances of the same scene can come across very differently.

3. Performance Size

There's a huge difference in the performance size for stage and screen acting. Screen acting allows for more precision with the use of close-up shots. Screen actors can fine-tune their performance with facial expressions that the audience sees only in close-ups. Stage actors, on the other hand, often have to employ larger movements to elicit the same response from the audience. Likewise, stage actors have to project their voice much further than screen actors whose voice is captured by a nearby boom mic.

4. Scene Continuity

Unlike stage acting, screen acting relies heavily on continuity to set the scene. Creating a scene for a screen audience involves stitching multiple shots of the scene. The setting of all the shots must be identical to create a unified scene, so screen performances need a dedicated crew to track and maintain continuity across multiple takes and scenes. Otherwise, seemingly trivial mistakes in continuity can ruin a screen performance. In contrast, stage performances don't need nearly as much consistency and precision for continuity, so the director can focus on perfecting other aspects of the performance.

5. Rehearsal Time

Stage acting often requires several weeks of rehearsal to tweak your performance and gel it well with that of your fellow actors. Screen acting, on the other hand, doesn't involve as much rehearsal time. Screen actors are self-reliant on much of their preparation for performance, whereas stage actors receive a lot more attention from their director. So, as a screen actor, your dive deeper into your character to fully understand their reality, choices, and attitudes.

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