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Our Guide to Stage Acting

Stage actors face a few interesting challenges that screen actors don’t. The most obvious of these is the fact that acting on stage occurs live – there will be no second or third take. Everything must be perfectly rehearsed and delivered in the moment. 

Another rather obvious difference between stage acting and screen acting is the location of the audience. A stage actor must draw people who are seated both near to and far from the stage into their performance. After all, there are no cameras to zoom in and capture every subtle change in facial expression and often no sound engineers to amplify whispers. 

The art here is to craft a performance in such a way that each audience member feels that it is believable – no matter where they are seated. The style you’ll employ is rather more exaggerated than it would be in film or TV acting, but it should still feel authentic.

It’s possible to be both an excellent screen actor and a consummate stage actor, but stage acting techniques differ from screen acting techniques. In this article, we celebrate the skill of those who tread the boards and look at some stage acting tips for aspiring actors. 

What Skills Do You Need for Stage Acting?

Vocal projection and diction

As a stage actor, you need the ability to modulate and project your voice to the back of the room without shouting. If you’ve mastered the art, your voice can seem soft yet still carry. Some people achieve this more easily than others, but the good news is that vocal projection can be learned. Apart from being able to make your voice carry, your diction will be important. You must be able to enunciate words clearly while still sounding natural. 

Physical control and expressiveness

When you are acting on stage, your audience has a limited view of your face. Those subtle facial expressions that a filmmaker may have zoomed in on have a limited impact. Instead, the audience can see your whole body, and everything you do with it contributes to the message the audience receives and interprets.

Ability to interpret scripts

All actors need the ability to interpret roles and their relationship with other characters from scripts. In stage acting, this is arguably even more important given the larger-than-life way in which you must present the characters you play. The audience must be able to understand how your character feels about the other characters and should feel able to read thoughts into the on-stage portrayals. 

Memory and adaptiveness 

Stage acting requires much more than just learning your lines, on-stage movements, and cues – but the ability to do so is an absolute requirement. At the same time, things don’t always go as planned. A fellow-actor may miss a cue or fluff a line, for example, leaving others to improvise and keep the production moving as if nothing untoward had occurred. 

Stamina and perseverance

Stage performances are rarely once-off efforts. You rehearse for months. After that, you must deliver a polished performance throughout the production’s run. How long this could be depends on your contract, but the effect remains the same. No matter how many times you’ve already portrayed a role, or how you feel on the day, each of your performances should represent your very best effort. 

Owning your performance

Although your director guides the way you portray your character, the performance is always yours. Whether your performance is stellar or lack-lustre, you have the ultimate responsibility for it. This differs from screen, where directors and editors have a high level of control over the finished product. Being willing to admit when you could have done better, even if it’s only to yourself, can be tough. Own your performance and always be ready to improve on it. 

Teamwork and interaction

Being aware of your own performances and giving your best every time is great. In stage shows, however, you also need to be aware of what other actors are doing so that your performance meshes with theirs and enhances the overall result. Even if you have the lead role, it includes the responsibility to work with other actors as a team member. 

Stage Acting Tips

Learn from others

No matter how strong your natural acting talent is, there’s always room to learn from others. Apart from taking acting courses, and paying attention to directors once you have a role, you can learn by observation. Attend performances and watch actors at work. Try to analyse their performances and identify what makes them effective. 

Be prepared to combat stage fright

Stage fright can affect even the most skilled actors. From “blanking out” and forgetting your lines to allowing your fear to shine through in your voice or body language, it can kill your performance. Be prepared to combat stage fright so that you can do yourself, your fellow actors, and the overall production justice. 

Warm up

Your voice and body are the instruments you’ll use to portray your role. Just as instrumentalists in an orchestra tune their instruments before a performance, your “instruments” will benefit from a warm-up. Warming up puts you in touch with your voice and your body. As an added benefit, it helps to combat any nervousness you might be feeling. 

Be present “as” your character

Whether it’s your first stage performance or your thousandth, situational awareness is crucial. At the same time, your performance should seem natural. Whatever acting techniques you employ, you are appearing as a character, and not as yourself. Step into your role and be alert to what is happening both on stage and in the audience. 

Take care of yourself

You can’t deliver your best performance if you are overtired, hung over or distracted. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat sensibly, and attend to any health niggles promptly.  Be ready to put personal concerns and upsets aside before you step onstage. If you don’t feel able to do so, be ready to admit that this is a time to allow understudies to take over. 

What to Expect During the Different Stages of a Live Theatre Production

Auditions

Will you get that role? Audition performances decide this for you. Use our tips to prepare for auditions and don’t see failing to land a role as total rejection. Landed a bit part? You may have wanted a bigger role, but it’s still something to celebrate. See it as an extra opportunity to gain experience. 

Rehearsals

During rehearsals, directors and actors work together to interpret the script. Always prepare for rehearsals as best you can. This includes analysing your character, testing out (and later, learning) your lines and looking at how your character interacts with others. No matter how well-prepared you are, be ready to change gear. Your director may not see your role in quite the same way that you do. 

Tech week

Tech week is the time when actors and backstage technicians get together and hone their teamwork. You’ll be performing with the final stage set, costumes, makeup, and props. Meanwhile, technicians will be working to perfect lighting and sound. Use this opportunity to familiarise yourself with how it will feel when the production launches in all its glory. 

Dress rehearsals

Towards the end of tech week, you may have a full dress rehearsal with an invited audience. It’s a further opportunity to perfect the production. A preview stage might follow, but many smaller productions skip this final step and go straight from dress rehearsal to opening night. 

Previews

Previews are open to the public, but the show is not yet open for critical review. That’s because directors might still decide on a few final tweaks based on audience reactions and their own observations. This is an opportunity to build confidence and test your ability to establish rapport with a real audience. In really important productions, there may even be several weeks of previews before the season begins. 

Season

After all your preparation, it’s finally time to present the finalised production. As an actor, your production’s season consists of a series of scheduled performances. The theatre that stages your production often incorporates several different productions into its season so that it can cater to different tastes by offering a variety of shows at any given time.

Do You Need Stage Acting Experience to Become a Screen Actor?

In theory, at least, you don’t need stage acting experience to become a screen actor. However, you’ll find that most famous screen actors began their careers on stage. As you’ll have seen from this article, stage acting requires hard work and perseverance as well as skill. Being able to add successful stage performances to your acting resume shows that you have all three. 

Keeping Your Acting Career Viable Throughout Your Growth as an Actor

While you’re putting in all the hard work that goes into being a professional actor, other types of work experience can be a help – especially if they come with an income and are flexible. After all, we all need to pay the bills, even when our sights are set on stage, screen, or both. Even the best actors experience some downtime when they are between roles. 

How about doing a little voice acting with RSVP? Be the voice of a brand. Practice sounding out your audience and delivering what it needs. Sharpen up your improvisation skills. And, when it’s time to grasp stage or screen opportunities, or even attend training, have access to flexible employment with a company that will be cheering you on. 

The good news? You don’t have to wait on tables between gigs. Fully flexible employment is at your fingertips with RSVP, a company whose business model is built around working with actors. Visit our careers page to find out more! 

 

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