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3 Things Screen Actors Can Learn From Stage Actors

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3 Things Screen Actors Can Learn From Stage Actors

There is no difference between getting stage and screen work. Here are the three main ways getting stage and screen jobs are the same.

1. Having Goals. Every journey has a beginning, middle, and end and so does every acting career. To start that journey, you need to have a goal. Stage actors are probably more familiar with having acting goals than screen actors because stage actors tend to be extremely impassioned people. Everyone dreams of being on TV or film, but it takes something very specific to dream of being on stage. Typically stage actors don't just say they want to get on stage. They want to do Shakespeare, Miller, Shaw, Disney on Ice (eek!) They see a production, and it speaks to them. They identify with the characters or story in a way only they can understand. It's also much easier to see stage for what it is. It's people on a stage, and there they are in plain view. Watching television is nothing like acting in it. Acting for TV is the weirdest, most artificial thing in the world. It is dozens of people standing around you waiting for you to finish your job so they can do theirs. It is sitting around in a trailer for hours and hours, wondering if they even know you are there. It is getting primped and fluffed, having eyeliner applied, and having sound guys fishing around in your pants to run a wire around your nether regions. But I digress.

Stage actors know more what they want to do because they have seen what it involves. No one has any clue what TV actors do. So here comes the point. If screen actors knew more about what screen acting was, they would be less starry eyed and more concrete in terms of what they wanted. The single biggest roadblock to screen acting is how big it all seems. If screen actors simply picked a few shows they were interested in and some people they wanted to work with, they could devise a plan to do just that. Take the hint people!

2. Learning about the business. Many stage actors find that to begin their careers, they have to start with really small local or regional theater companies. Those companies are very short on resources so they need their actors to pick up a broom or work the lights or send out some marketing emails and so-on. The more they do; the more they get it. They understand what it takes to put on a production. Most stage savvy actors could probably take a turn at production or direction because they have been so close to it and because they understand it so well, and it makes them better performers.

When you know what everyone else looks and sounds like under the lights and you know why the music comes on at a certain moment, you can be more effective because you see that your performance is part of a whole. This takes the pressure off the performer as an individual. Their part is not that important. They don't have to do everything. The story is what counts, and so long as you don't distract the audience away from the story, you're going to be OK. Screen actors rarely get involved in the production side of things unless they are so desperate they see no other way to find acting opportunities. They see themselves as entirely distinct from the creative process other than to prepare their part, which seems hugely important to them when in fact there is so much more involved in telling the story. There are lights, score, camera angles, shot selections, editing, and a million other things going on.

If you are doing your job, nobody really notices you—either on set or on screen. In fact, it's a common complaint of screen actors that they get no direction when in fact that means the director is happy with what you are doing and doesn't have to worry about you. He's worrying about the shadow on the kitchen counter. So if screen actors took a page from stage actors and got to know more about the process, they would be less intimidated and be better at their jobs because they would truly understand what their jobs are about.

3. Relationships. Of course the offshoot of doing all that work in stage construction, marketing, lighting, and selling popcorn that goes on in small theaters leads to getting to know one another extremely well. Many theater companies are like families. That leads to nepotism. Theater companies are loathe to hire actors from the outside if they can avoid it. Heck, we all paid our dues and we are all talented so why tap into the outside world where we don't know what we're getting? When you work with the director very closely, they are going to want to cast you because they know what they are getting. If that director goes elsewhere to work, they might want to cast you there too. The same thing happens in the TV and film world. I dare you to go onto IMDb and search a handful of your favorite producers and directors and see if they don't work repeatedly with many of the same actors. Some of these actors may happen to be stars, but maybe they weren't stars when they met. Maybe they worked together on student projects and formed a bond, then when one of them blew up, they immediately called the other and said, "Come on board!"

The best way to build relationships is by demonstrating your character, capabilities, and consistency. Do your best at all times. To paraphrase the Beatles, "Workshops Can't Buy You Love." Offer to help and realize that your payout will come from having people believe in you and wanting to reciprocate when they have the chance. We want to work with people we know, like, and trust. That doesn't come from auditioning. It comes from getting your hands dirty, and sharing in the ups and downs of life with someone. Shared experiences are irreplaceable. So screen actors, go out there and find a producer/director/editor/casting director and get involved in their projects. Even if that person doesn't blow up, your reputation as a wonderful person to work with will take on a life of it's own. Then you will have to learn how to say, "No!"

David Patrick Green is a professional actor and the founder of Hackhollywood.com, a membership-based website dedicated to empowering and educating actors around the globe on how to become a professional actor. His simple five-step approach inspires actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. He has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant before realizing Platinum frequent-flyer status had few rewards other than boredom, bedbugs, and beer. David is also author of the “Become a Famous Actor” series of books available at Amazon.com. He has lived and worked as an actor in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor. He is happy to be reached at david@hackhollywood.com.

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