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The Green Room: What is the difference between stage and screen acting?

Photo: Aleksei Kolesnikov/shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…

Albert_Parker

Albert Parker is 58 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Rosie-Montague

Rosie Montague is in her 20s. Since completing her training in 2013 she has played leading roles on national tours in classical productions

Peter_Quince

Peter Quince is a 71-year-old actor working in theatre
and television

Tina-Cerrito-

Tina Cerrito is in her 20s. She has worked on a number of productions in leading new-writing theatres, as well as the film work

Molly_Muffet

Molly Muffet is 36. After graduating from university, Molly joined the cast of a major BBC sitcom. Since then she has worked extensively on stage

 Jit_Singh

Jit Singh is 42 and has worked extensively in theatre film and TV, including new plays for companies such as Bush Theatre and the National

AlbertSize. It’s always about size… In so many things.

Peter A lot of things. People say screen acting has to be more truthful. But, often, truthful is too big for the camera.

Tina There is nowhere to hide with screen work.

Molly And with less rehearsal time on screen, you have to make a lot of decisions on your own.

Tina Which is ironic, because it can be the most pressured and unnatural environment, but you have to find ways to be in the moment, even with 50 crew members watching you while thinking about hitting your spot and praying that you don’t forget your lines.

Peter I don’t enjoy screen acting much. Unless you’re in a series, you’re acting with strangers.

Tina You can never know your lines well enough with screen acting: preparation is the key, as there are so many variables that can affect your acting on set. Sometimes, the smaller the role, the more pressure to get it right.

Molly I’m not sure it makes for the best acting, but I’ve seen screen actors whose performances can almost exist independently of their co-actors – they’ve got so used to creating something on their own.

Albert Focus, and immerse yourself in the world.

Thomas Do you end up doing lots of research and text work on your own, or is it a case of blagging it on the day?

Albert I think you have to be very sure of what you want to do for TV and film, as often there is so little rehearsal. You have to approach it knowing what you want to do, but retain a flexibility to fire off other actors.

Peter You’ve got to learn it really well. There are so many things to put you off when you’re on camera. That said, I’ve worked with soap actors who don’t put the script down until the take. And then they dry.

Molly Speak soft, think loud.

Jit Screen acting is all very technical – conserve that energy, and yes, be ready for only a limited number of goes at it.

Albert And you really must not expect the director to tell you what he wants. He probably doesn’t know. Show him what you want to do and let him work with it.

Thomas What about the technical challenges? Hitting your mark while making it look natural, keeping your eyeline up, that kind of thing.

Molly That’s just practice, isn’t it?

Albert It can be hard, and there is often not a lot taught about that at drama schools.

Peter Often technical notes are all you get from the director. “An inch to the left on that line; we’re shooting over your shoulder.”

Thomas Drama schools are waking up to teaching screen acting, but could they be better at teaching it?

Molly I think the best way to practise is to have a go at shooting scenes yourself. Pretty easy – all you need is an iPhone.

Tina With screen auditions I think it’s much more important to be off-book. If you were to get the job, you would hardly get any time to rehearse, so they want to see more of a finished project at the audition stage.

Molly My agent has sent us all a few emails encouraging this. Especially for self-taped auditions. Get the practice in.

Tina The rehearsal time is one of the biggest differences, you have to do a lot more of the work on your own with screen jobs.

Peter I hate the whole system of self-taping. But obviously it’s here to stay.

Thomas RADA now teaches self-taping as a module, I believe.

Jit Drama schools really could teach it better. Only a few weeks in the space of an entire degree course is simply insane.

Albert Yes, British training is still very much stage-based.

Peter Actors could get a buddy-group to help.

Albert Yes and the Actors Centre has just opened a self-tape facility with lights, mics, backcloths, and all for £20 for half an hour. I used it last week and it looks great.

Thomas That’s good Albert, great that the Actors Centre is offering that service – very useful.

Albert I prefer to self-tape than have to trek to Elstree for a 15-minute interview.

Rosie I recommend Mel Churcher’s books on acting for screen, they give you a great insight into what it’s like on set and the preparation you can do to make sure filming runs smoothly.

Albert Quite often you don’t meet the casting director, you just meet some assistant to put you on tape.

Jit Embracing the camera, and all its technical aspects, with regard to performance are key, and should be factored in as such.

Peter It’s interesting that actors pick up special skills. I know TV actors who are terrified of theatre work, and vice versa.

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