3 Differences Between Actors and Performers

I have often heard actors refer to themselves as performers, which I don’t think is empowering. I believe actors should call themselves actors. I understand that in most definitions of “actor” that, “performer” is one of the words to define it, but today the word “performer” has become more associated with circus acts, jugglers, stand-up comics, etc., and sometimes singers and dancers. Performers are talented, trained, crafted professionals. They are their own category and should be respected as such.

Actors are actors. Performers are performers. They’re both honorable professions. Why, then, am I writing about this distinction? I think it is has value in the acting profession as a means of recognition. Actors train for years in acting classes, go out on auditions, and do acting jobs. Performers take lessons to develop their specific skills, spend years perfecting them, and when they do book work, it is to perform their skill or talent. There are definite similarities, but are what I believe to be the big differences:

1. Focus. For the most part, performers are very aware of their audience and their reactions, whereas actors, whether it is in class, auditions, onstage or on a set, are focused and involved in their scene and their connection to the material. They are not focusing on entertaining an audience. That is usually a result of how well they do their job. Actors may have an awareness of the audience, technical issues, and/or direction—especially when working on a set or onstage—but their main focus is on being in the moment and the other actors, not on the audience’s reaction.

When actors are focused on anything but their work, it is very difficult to be “present” and in their scene. Also, when thinking about how you are doing or the response you are or are not getting from those watching, you are “in your head.” No actor can do their best when “in their head,’ whereas performers must focus on other things: objects, animals, music, audience response, technical issues, etc.

2. Training. Performers receive their training and experience from specialized venues, interning, and a lot of practice on their own. Most dedicated actors get their training in professional classes in major market cities, and many go to colleges and universities to get their training and theater arts degree. Academic degrees are not given in most of the performer categories.

A side note here: Even though I know professors and theater arts majors will probably disagree with me, it is my belief that the majority of university and college acting programs teach their students to perform, not act. And that is because most professional acting programs taught in major markets require students to experience a full range of authentic emotions, which most professors and academic classrooms are not equipped to emotionally handle. And because many institutions only do three-to-six months of each of the various popular acting techniques, the students learn about these techniques, but don’t spend the necessary time to master any one of them. Obviously there are universities that do offer full two- or three-year Meisner, Strasberg, etc., programs, but that is not the majority. On the other hand, many wonderful musical theater performers come from university programs.

3. Definition. In order to add more clarity to the professional title, I think it is beneficial for actors to either refer to themselves as a new actor, working, or professional actor, or actor, depending on where they are in their career.

When first training and/or starting to build your résumé, I believe you are a new actor. Once you start working as an actor, but not making a living, you should call yourself a working actor. Then when you start making money (or a living) as an actor, now you are a professional. And when you become successful, then you can lose the adjectives and just call yourself an actor.

As an actor, you are your own category of artist. Always refer to yourself as such, not a performer, so that you gain respect for your craft, career, and yourself and from industry pros.

For more specific commercial audition ad technique training study my videos and vlogs. Then practice the techniques you will learn from them.

Carolyne was a casting director, actress, and director, considered by agents, casting directors and students, as the best commercial audition acting coach in Los Angeles.

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Carolyne Barry
Carolyne Barry, a casting director, working actor, and director, is considered by agents, casting directors, and students to be the best commercial audition acting coach in Los Angeles.
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