If you’re like me, you didn’t have the option in grade school or college to study acting for the camera—just drama or theater. If you were lucky enough to have an on-camera class, chances are your teacher had no real knowledge about acting for professional studio and network projects.
The study of stage acting has existed for thousands of years. We’ve only had on-camera acting for about 100, television for 50, and it continues to evolve. The modern genres, tones, and writing styles of films and shows haven’t been around that long. Few acting schools are set up with the technologies, methodologies, and working knowledge as to how to train actors for them, especially institutions that have been around for a long time. It’s still rare to find a camera in an acting studio full of aspiring film and TV actors.
Too many actors come to L.A. to act in film and TV thinking acting is just one thing, and end up in an acting studio doing plays and learning classic methodologies that were designed for the stage actor. The problem with studying theater is that much of what you learn for the stage is diametrically opposed to what you need to do for on-camera acting.
There are thousands of actors in acting classes being trained for a medium they have no professional interest in because either they don’t know there is an alternative that is targeted towards what they want to do, or no alternatives exist in their market.
Acting is like learning guitar. It’s not enough to learn scales and chords. You have to learn different styles of music: jazz, rock, folk, etc. Acting has its own foundational skills, but then you need to learn how to adapt your craft for very different and specific mediums: theater, musical theater, voiceover, single-camera comedy, multi-camera comedy, drama, commercials, motion capture, and improv.
So let’s look at three habits you may have picked up in your stage training and how they differ from on-camera training. Some may seem obvious, but many actors aren’t aware they’re doing stagey things on camera, as these practices have become integrated into how they always act.
Stage-trained actors must learn how to project so that the audience can hear what they’re saying. In on-camera acting, there’s never a reason to speak more loudly than the scene and story requires. Whether by boom or hidden under clothing, we can get a mic anywhere and it picks up everything.
On that note, even if you’re loud enough on stage, you still have to speak clearly and enunciate your words so the audience can understand you as well. But when stage actors bring that practice into on-camera acting IT CaN SounD LiKe ThiS, which can be very distracting, obviously. I have to remind actors that it’s actually very hard to not understand someone speaking English, so feel free to be Mushmouth. Not mumbly or slurry, but you just have to know when to let go oF BeinG So CleaR WiTH EaCH WorD.
Stage training can get us into a habit of always externalizing and physically expressing what we normally feel just inside so that the audience can see and perceive how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking. I think Damian Lewis said it well: “Onstage, you have to in some small nuanced way give a demonstration of what you’re thinking so that the people at the back can see it, whereas on camera you just quite literally have to think it. I realized that you could actually have a whole range of thoughts in a short space of time and the camera would see them all.”
There is enough to learn when studying on-camera acting genres and material. Don’t feel like you need a stage–based foundation first. You can learn those foundational acting skills in camera–based acting classes, too. I think it’s easier to make a stage actor out of an on-camera actor than the reverse. So, if you know you want to act for the camera, seek out on-camera training.
The time of our lives is precious. I don’t want anyone to waste that time like I did before realizing there is a better way. Stage acting is an amazing medium and it’s where I got my start, but I’m more clear about what I want to do now. I’ve left the stage for the set and am having the time of my life.
- July 2019
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- May 30, 2017 3 Essentials for Brilliant Work May 30, 2017
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- Jan 18, 2017 Why Good Slates Matter Jan 18, 2017
- December 2016
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- Sep 9, 2016 2 L.A. Session Directors on What Actors Need to Know Sep 9, 2016
- Jun 6, 2016 We’re Not Evolved to Handle Acting Well Jun 6, 2016
- May 31, 2016 3 Ways Stage Training Adversely Affects On-Camera Actors May 31, 2016
- Apr 14, 2016 4 Ways for Working Actors to Deal With Emotional Stress Apr 14, 2016
- Dec 1, 2015 How to Handle Unwanted Romantic Advances From Industry Pros Dec 1, 2015
- Nov 11, 2015 Stop Calling It Rejection Nov 11, 2015
- Oct 7, 2015 5 Universal Mistakes I See Actors Make Oct 7, 2015
- Sep 29, 2015 The Unsung Heroes of Casting: Cori-Anne Greenhouse Sep 29, 2015
- Aug 31, 2015 Why Acting Is and Needs to Be Fun Aug 31, 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 12, 2015 Being a ‘Good’ Actor Isn’t Good Enough May 12, 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- Nov 28, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 3 Nov 28, 2014
- Nov 26, 2014 7 Steps Toward Better Headshots Nov 26, 2014
- Nov 12, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 2 Nov 12, 2014
- Nov 5, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 1 Nov 5, 2014
- Oct 13, 2014 Why Actors Must Take Care of Their Bodies Oct 13, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 2: Matching Your Essence to Your Marketing Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 1: Identifying Your Essence Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 6, 2014 We Are Each Other’s Greatest Resource Oct 6, 2014
- Sep 29, 2014 An Ode to Actors Everywhere Sep 29, 2014
- Sep 23, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 2 Sep 23, 2014
- Sep 16, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 1 Sep 16, 2014
- Sep 9, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 3: 3 More Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 9, 2014
- Sep 2, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 2: 3 Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 2, 2014
- Aug 25, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 1: Are You in Class for the Right Reasons? Aug 25, 2014
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- Aug 11, 2014 You Are Enough: Why You Need to Just Be Yourself in Commercial Auditions Aug 11, 2014