By Omoye Uzamere
Last time, I wrote about how understanding the history of Theatre, Film and Television can improve one’s acting. The performance energy required for each medium is different and knowing this can help an actor customize their performances and move beyond simply great acting.
Theatre acting is akin to taking on the role of the priest and INTERPRETING the written words.
Film evolved from photography, so the focus of storytelling is on look and feel – PICTURE.
Television broke out from Radio, so it’s all about the WORDS.
So, wetin “consign” actor with that one? I’ll tell you…
THEATRE actors interpret the playwright’s word(s) to society. Now you know why in theatre, the text is sacred and must not be changed arbitrarily. The actor himself/herself changes to suit the dialogue and sculpts himself/herself by the words in order to become the character he/she is playing. You might call them descendants of the priests.
It’s all about dissecting the meaning and intention of the text, from each character’s perspective and relating it to your own character. Theatre requires an intelligent mind that understands the material and its relevance to society. It is a higher calling of sorts.
A FILM actor understands that the performance is more about how you use your instrument.
If I have the ability to substitute a whole line of dialogue with my facial expressions or body language to convey the same meaning, I become the director’s darling. Personality and physical appearance become the reason for casting an actor in a film, not necessarily the ability to interpret the story or memorize lines, as in theatre.
I would liken it to a well-timed dance that syncs with an imperceptible rhythm; both the audience and the actor are engaged in the dance, but neither (or only the actor) is aware. In film, looks trump talent and I know how prejudiced it may sound, but the picture is priority.
TELEVISION acting, on the other hand, is very straightforward. Three things will set a TV actor apart:
Clear and simple performances, learning your lines and delivering your performance in as few takes as you can. Call it working quickly.
You do not have the luxury of several rehearsals, so all your work must be done at home. There is no prize for cutting lines – let me rephrase, you can get penalized for cutting your lines – because the story is in the words. That way, the viewer can follow the plot even if they missed a few minutes of the show.
Television is personality before character, like film, but not as picture driven. It’s dialogue-driven, like theater, but without the dire need for interpretation.
So, it’s similar but different and you, the actor, have to find the balance.
When it comes to booking the job, expectations are the same – at least in an ideal casting situation.
A stage director wants to see interpretation, character, a compelling voice, and use of the body.
A film director watches your face to tell if you can deliver in a close up.
A television director wants to see if you can keep up the dialogue and wants to make sure that no “performance” slips in.
Many great actors have their background in theatre and learn to analyze dialogue, voice training, rehearsal technique and the ability to repeat your performance the exact same way each time.
These skills are most valuable, but transferring them straight to television or film will not help your performance. Rather, tailoring those skills to suit the need is a most useful asset.
Television and film do not operate like theatre; so direct application can make an excellent theatre actor look like a bad actor. In the same vein, film acting and techniques could fail on television and in the theatre, would even induce sleep! That is because the person at the back of the hall cannot see those deep, subtle emotions.
Having information is great, knowing the truth of that information is amazing, but understanding when to apply this knowledge and how to apply it, that is the mark of excellence. This is what actors strive for.
For that excellence to occur we must understand the medium and take advantage of its strengths… knowing the history and roots of each medium makes all the difference.
At this point, it’s safe to say that timing is everything. As the great Robert De Niro said, the talent is in the choices.
Another favourite quote describes it thus: ”That single tear rolling down your cheek will play nicely on a 20-foot-high movie screen. But will anyone see it on the stage of a 500-seat house? And will an episode of “Hawaii Five-0” give that little tear of yours the time it needs to traverse your cheekbone before the camera cuts away?”