What’s harder, stage or screen? TRICK QUESTION – NEITHER. But I hooked you, huh?
A debate heard on a semi-regular basis and I think a lot of actors struggle if being an actor on stage or on screen is “harder.” While it is, of course, great to discuss the different aspects of our craft, first and foremost we need to immediately drop the idea that one could be “harder” than the other – the ego makes one better than the other. Billy Shakes did not say just part of the world under a certain set of circumstances is a stage, did he? (Did he? No…right? No…well…yeah, no!)
“Good acting – real acting is impossible to spot. Do you ever catch talents like Robert Duvall or Kathy Bates acting? No. I defy you to show me where.” – William Esper
Let’s discuss the two big differences: opportunities to fix vs. opportunities to hide.
When someone works in film or TV, there’s more of an opportunity to correct any mistakes – which is the entire field and concept of not only post production but “takes.” While not immediately suggested or encouraged, there is the possibility to go back and do the scene again should an actor forget or mess up a line. In terms of places to hide, this would be considered a double-edged sword. While it could make for a more fine-tuned final product, actors have less of an ability to hide in film and TV. The audience is in many cases less than a foot away from you and lined up to your face, as opposed to someone in a seat a few yards away from you. Just because you got the words out as they were written doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to believe you (hard cough, Tommy Wiseau, hard, hard cough).
“I’m a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I’ve got any talent is beside the point.” – Michael Caine
When someone works on stage, it’s a one-shot deal baby. You either get the line out as intended, or you don’t. There is no post production and there’s definitely no chance for a new take. That being said, anyone who’s been to acting school has seen that person who has a vocal emotional depth that spans for miles but they have the facial expression that would make you think they had a close, personal working relationship with Medusa. Theatre actors tend to have more of an opportunity to hide only in that our audience is farther away from us physically, but closer to us emotionally as they’re watching us go through our story as we are.
At the end of the day, what we really should be talking about is not types of “good vs. bad acting in what field and why” but just what makes a good actor regardless of where they work. Like Craig MacDonald said, “the best acting is instinctive. It’s not intellectual, it’s not mechanical, it’s instinctive.”