Not-So-Lost in Translation: 6 Tips on Transitioning Between Film and Theatre

3304697Film and theatre can seem like two completely different beasts, especially if you’ve only ever done one or the other. But if you’ve ever wondered if you could hack it on the other side of the fence, here are some tips for your transition starter kit!


  1. Energy. The most obvious difference lies in the nature of your audience. In live performance, your audience is in the same room, but depending on the venue, they can start at fifty feet away. Each requires a different approach to sharing your story with your given audience.


The best way I’ve ever had it described to me is simply a shift in perspective. Acting on camera is all about inviting your audience in. This does not mean becoming passive in your choices or internalizing so much that you’re essentially not acting anymore. It’s more about remaining open and keeping your energy inward-circling as opposed to projecting it into the space.


Acting in live performance, however, is more centered around reaching out and sharing your energy with everyone in the room. You have to fill the space and share intimacy with everyone from the front row to the back row of the house. The difference between the two mindsets is more subtle than you would think, but it will help finesse your approach to stage vs. film.


  1. Physicality. This one might seem obvious, but muscle memory means that newcomers often struggle with it. In film, everything is close, tight, subtle. A shift in eyeline can make a dramatic statement. Actors often have to be aware of camera framing as they contain their physical choices.


On stage, however, many choices that would be dynamic and compelling on film won’t read at all. You have to involve your whole body in telling the story. You need to commit to a fully realized, energized physicality that suits the size of the venue. This is not to say that each gesture is over-exaggerated to a comical level (unless the script calls for that). It’s just an expansion. Let the story you would tell with your eyes on film extend and expand through your body.


  1. 3. Volume. A small note, but a crucial one. First time stage actors used to having the camera feet away from their heads often lack the habit of projection. (And by the same token, Broadway regulars might need to check their volume at the door). For those transitioning from screen to stage, make sure that you’re projecting in a way that protects your vocal chords (supporting from the diaphragm rather than straining from the throat). If this is confusing, consider consulting a vocal coach to show you proper technique. For those moving from theatre to film, remember the first tip about inviting your audience in. It applies to volume as well.


  1. Technical Considerations. These are partly tied up in physicality and projection, but as this is probably the most extensive set of considerations while transitioning, we’ll give it its own bullet point. Physically, film actors need to consider things like opening up to camera, hitting their marks, continuity, and working around elements such as stand-ins, cameras and equipment, etc. These considerations disappear in the theatre. The camera is replaced by the audience, which means that actors often have to cheat out (a practice that can occasionally feel unnatural or forced to new initiates. Like anything else, it just requires a little work to find a way to make each situation feel personally organic). A few major considerations to note for stage are backstage traffic patterns, whether you’ll be mic’d or not, how much time you have for quick changes, etc. Essentially, take some time to learn the technical ropes of each and let that knowledge set you up for success.


  1. Linear vs Non-linear. While film and television often film scenes out of order, live performances run everything start to finish. Each necessitates a different kind of stamina. Film actors need to be prepared to do many takes of the same scene, or the same moment. They need to be able to switch between vastly different emotional states as they dip into different points of the character’s arc. Actors in theatre need to know how to pace their arcs, let the story build on itself, and allow each beat to emotionally inform the next as the narrative unfolds in real time. Each has its advantages and its challenges. Being mentally prepared for the structural differences will help ease the transition either way.


  1. It’s the Same at Heart. At the end of the day, it’s all acting. Your tactics, objectives, and obstacles won’t change. Your character work will overlap. You’re still telling a story. Like any transition, moving between film and theatre can seem daunting the first time, but you’ve already got the goods. Just tweak your outlook, do some research, and you’ll be fine.


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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at

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