Why Acting On-Camera Is Easier (And Harder) Than Acting On Stage


You’re in a play.  Rehearsal ends and you and your scene partner decide to grab a bite to eat together.  After your meal you decide to work through the lines to your “last date” scene.  You quietly begin talking, exploring the script together, just talking, like the married couple who decide to divorce over dessert in the play. 

Now you’re on stage in the same scene in front of an audience.  But the audience is now several yards away and you must include them by making physical and vocal choices ample enough for them to see, hear and follow your story.  You are also influenced by and make adjustments to your performance based upon the feedback you receive from the audience.  In the restaurant you were talking with just one person across a table.  Onstage you talk to your scene partner and the audience at the same time.

On-camera, there is no audience to respond to so you are free to just talk as you had at the restaurant.  It’s life-sized.  There’s no need to perform or put on a show.  The camera will zoom in at will literally bringing the audience to you!  It’s just you and one other person quietly talking in a very important, highly emotional situation with deep stakes for each of you.  Your job is to bring your passion, intelligence, humor and deep understanding of the emotional circumstances of the scene to an audience of one, a foot away.  This preparation is what will allow you to commit yourself completely to the emotional life of your character and to the world of the script.  The camera will record everything you think.  Trust it.  This is the time to act like no one is watching. 

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Don’t show us what you’re doing.  Just know deeply what you want, find your scene partner’s soul in their eyes, listen, feel and respond. 

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There are a lot of distractions on set but your commitment to your character’s need must be unwavering.  You need to deliver flawlessly with a camera in your face and a guy holding a boom mic above your head while dozens of people move equipment around and fuss with hair and makeup after each take on an always tight schedule.  You’ll also have to wait around a lot and be ready to be amazing whenever they call you.  Oh, did I mention you may also meet your scene partner that day with only a brief blocking rehearsal before you shoot the scene?  Last minute script changes are not uncommon either and you will likely be shooting scenes out of sequence to maximize the use of each location and end up shooting the end of the film before you shoot the beginning.  That’s a lot to deal with but hey, if it were easy everyone would be doing it.

Let me know if you think acting on-camera or acting on stage is harder and why in the comments below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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All my best,

Philip

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Philip Hernandez is a respected acting teacher and singing coach in NYC. He is also the only actor in Broadway history to play both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. He created principal roles in Broadway’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Paul Simon’s The Capeman. You may also know him from his many television appearances: Gotham, Blue Bloods, Nurse Jackie, Elementary, Person of Interest, Hostages and Damages to name a few. For information about acting lessons CLICK HERE or singing lessons CLICK HERE.

Follow him on twitter @philip24601, on Instagram @philip24601 and on Facebook at PhilipHernandezMusic


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11 thoughts on “Why Acting On-Camera Is Easier (And Harder) Than Acting On Stage

  • Philip Hernandez Post author

    Yes, one of the challenges in film is knowing where you are in your character’s arc. The key is keeping track of knowing “what you know” for each scene you’re filming. You are responsible for your continuity. It’s not much different than rehearsing scenes out of context for a play. It’s like starting with act 2, or running scene 3, for instance. Without rehearsal you must do the work of rehearsal on your own so you’re prepared to work on set. It requires a different kind of discipline than working in theatre. That’s why actors work with coaches to help them compensate for the lack of a structured rehearsal process.

  • Brian Lyons-Burke

    Great question. The answer isn’t simple.

    With the stage, you unreel your story to an audience from front to back, with no chance to stop, do it over, or trust that things can be cleaned up afterwards. If you go off the rails, you need to trust your fellow actors – and yourself – to recover. However, your performance has been built up through rehearsal after rehearsal. You ride the performance that you share with the audience.

    On Camera, the challenge is different. You don’t flow from one scene to the next. You may film the final scene first. I find that an extreme challenge – how do I build on a performance that has not yet happened? How do I bring truth to a performance that may have little or no prior rehearsal? To some extent, how do I trust my performance without the feedback of an audience?

    So I don’t have a solid answer. They are both difficult. But in a way, that is part of the reason we love this.

    Love your articles by the way. Great insights.

  • Nassera

    Love that article! I think it s depens of the scene, for a comedy one i will say its more easier and enjoyable on stage than a Drama scene? Thanks you.

  • Brian Payne

    The stage allows for more flourish, for lack of a better word. More grand expression, which is not the same as hamming it up.
    The camera does allow for a more realistic and intimate performance, where connection with the audience (to me) seems easier. Subtlety of facial expressions, tone of voice, or even the use of hands make that communication easier.
    But I think acting is acting. Neither one is more difficult than the other. Internal preparation of the character is the same. And with the use of body mics becoming more and more common, the volume of your voice becomes less of an issue. To me multiple takes on camera aren’t really that different from rehearsals for the stage. Either one gives you multiple opportunities to refine your character.
    I may be wrong. I am not a professional (yet!) but this is how I see it. The main thing is to remember that the character development is never finished until either the director yells “Print!” or the curtain closes for the last time.
    Wow. Just in writing this I am reminded that the work itself can be so enriching.

  • Darryl Fernandes

    I feel acting on camera is not so difficult than compared to stage acting which is much difficult and the shoot takes place well planned in the way it has to be, while stage acting is spontanous and skill work and it depends entirly on the environment what happens next and how the artist adapts to certain situation that is invitable you get one chance thats it.