I’ve started to consider actresses for the lead female role in the new play/film for later this year and the difference in acting methods between UK and US actors interests me.
In the UK acting is, or certainly was, all about the stage. When I studied acting it was very much aimed at the stage – projection, etc. Here in the US it is primarily for television and film, the camera.
If you polled UK actors, I would suggest all have performed on stage; if you polled US actors, I would suggest that less than half have ever appeared professionally on a stage. In the past, a lot of US actors have gone to the UK to act on stage, taking minimum fees too, just to do it. Lindsey Lohan is doing it right now.
It’s very noticeable whether an actor has been trained for the stage or for the camera.
On stage of course you have to project, so that the audience can see you. Gielgud, Burton, Olivier were all stage actors and are of course some of the greatest actors of all time. When you started out as acting as I did as a kid, it was all about the stage really. Film was almost a dirty word. The one thing with stage acting was that you had to learn all your lines! I learnt this to my cost when we did my play as above, Weekend Break, at the Gilded Balloon at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Even though I had written it I dropped several pages, totally forgetting them, ill prepared. A lesson I will never forget.
I would never work with a prompter though, an actor’s safety net, the person who sits in the wings ready just in case you do forget your lines. When I had the theatre I witnessed a local amateur dramatic company stage a play, complete with prompter. One elderly actor duly forgot his lines and waited for a prompt. Unfortunately the man, who was such a sweet soul, was also deaf and couldn’t hear the prompt so had to go off stage and read the script. The audience though could see him and started laughing; it was quite sad.
Props and sound effects can also be nightmares for stage actors. I’ve seen a stage wall, a ‘flat’, fall down; actors miss their cues and come in at the wrong time or on the wrong line, but it some ways, it’s part of it.
But when it goes right ………. there is a reason why acting on stage has been around for six centuries or more. If you have never been to see a play, I encourage you to do so – not an adaptation of a film musical, although they can be great, not a pantomime as in Britain, which is the only live theatre most people in the UK regrettably see, although they too are great fun; no, I mean a proper play. It doesn’t need to be Shakespeare, actually far from it, look for something new, a contemporary play, something at least from the last century at least – Williams, Osborne, Orton, Steinbeck, Naughton, Barstow, Sillitoe, go back further to Wilde and Coward – these are just my personal favorite writers.
Nowadays of course it’s all about television and film – the camera. One of the best actors in this genre is John Travolta who knows that the camera will pick up the slightest movement, expression, the raise of an eyebrow. Learning to work the camera is like learning to work an audience.
The difference has been highlighted for me this week in beginning to consider and find an actress for the new play later this year, trying to find an actress who is able to take on the demanding role, and on stage first. It will be out of a lot of actor’s comfort zone, which is nearly always a good thing and produces their best work. We will see, time will tell.