Theatre Acting vs. On-Camera Acting

In my training (learning the difference between theatre acting and film acting) I’ve found that I much prefer film acting but find it difficult to “keep it small” for film at times. I have not chosen to do any theatre for many years both because of this problem and because I don’t want to have theatre commitments when the chance to do a film comes up. Yet there is a lot of hoopla from CDs about the importance of doing theatre so that we can get their attention. One CD even says that she will throw in the trash bin any actor’s resumé that comes in without recent theatre work listed on it! Should I be going out for theatre roles?

I’m never going to argue with anyone who places value on theatre acting. I started as a theatre actor, professionally, in 1977. While I respect the fact that learning to “keep it small” for the camera is tough when your background is theatre acting, I also know it’s not an impossible feat. In fact, some of my very favorite film and television actors come from theatre (and continue to do theatre while on hiatus or between films).

In addition to being a way to “get seen” by industry professionals, staying active on stage keeps you sharp. You get a “live” workout every time you’re on the stage and you adjust your work based on feedback from audience reactions and the director’s notes. Your work is also impacted by what you are given by those actors with whom you share the stage.

Certainly, much of that is true for film and television acting as well, but something about the “first time, every time” nature to theatre acting raises the stakes and creates a more skilled overall performer.

I look for theatre on a resumé. Directors do too. In fact, the director of a film I cast a couple of months ago (yes, a film director) required very strong theatre credits of every candidate. So, that would be a situation where lack of recent (and impressive) theatre credits could lead your resumé to the wrong stack for me as well.

As for “keeping it small” for the camera, a good on-camera class is a better prescription for learning to do that (much better than theatre-avoidance). Film auditions should never be your only on-camera experience! You should be regularly evaluating and improving your on-camera work through classes, if film and television acting is your ultimate goal. Staying away from theatre work will not make you a better on-camera actor. Classes will.

And the scheduling concern really is a non-issue. If your role is large enough in a play that there would be a major problem in losing you for a night here or there, you will have an understudy. I wouldn’t advise that you simply not do theatre in anticipation of possible film and television roles. Unless lightning strikes, you are more likely to work a day or two tops on the set of a film or television show and that certainly won’t create the need for you to drop out of the cast in a play you’re working on for months at a time.

Is it possible to do film and TV and never do theatre acting at all? Yes, but that seems like such a sad life to me! Theatre is where the real work lives. Why turn your back on it when you can have the best of all worlds?

Whatever you choose to do, do good work!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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