Stage and Screen Presence

In Development Advice on August 3, 2010 at 4:15 am
The intangible X factor some actors possess does have, to a certain degree, to do with good looks. However, that special something, the X factor, is really about presence. Screen or stage presence is an actor’s innate ability to be present fully in each new moment. These actors are fully present sitting inside what the character is experiencing.  They are living truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances of the play or screenplay.
Regardless of ones training or experience, this concept is relatively easy to agree on. But if you are not one of the lucky few to be born with this innate quality, or nurtured in a family that understands and encourages its development, how can you cultivate screen or stage presence?

Within the question is the answer. Presence onstage or screen is determined by one’s ability to be fully in the moment. But what does this mean, to be fully in the moment, to be present? What are you doing when you are just being? It is not a passive endeavour. It is, in fact, the conscious act of listening.  

Listening, really listening! Not just hearing sounds and other actors talk. But listening with all of your senses and paying attention to everything you are receiving onstage or in front of the camera.  

Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood... No Stranger to Screen Presence.

One of this generation’s most beloved actors and renowned directors, Clint Eastwood, says that “a good actor will absorb their surroundings, their situation, and respond accordingly.” Absorb is just another word for listening.     

This week, turn the sound off on the TV and see if you can “listen” to what the actors are saying without actually hearing the words. Or watch strangers in a café; what is their body language saying? And what does their behaviour and the way they interact tell you about what they mean to each other?  

Finally, become aware of how your friends and family are speaking to you; listening to the tone and intonation of their voice. Does the meaning of their tone match the meaning of their words? For instance, can you hear in their response to “how are you?” that, in fact, they are not “fine.” What else can you hear in the tone of how others respond to you that is different to the meaning of the words they speak?    

These simple exercises are the beginning of your ability to really listen, to really pay attention, and to be truly present.    

We each have a responsibility to tune in, not only to our surroundings but to the subtle difference between observing what is going on and judging others. The point is not to find fault, blame, or ridicule in others, but rather to honestly work off “what is”.   

Visit The Wellington Actors Studio at for more information on classes, workshops and coaching for actors.

  1. The difference between being perceptive and judgemental was difficult for me to learn, but I found that if you keep doing the work your fellow actors will help you to get past that point.

    Clara Wellons
    Mesiner for Teens Teacher
    The Wellington Actors Studio

  2. This course and the exercises is really great and already helping me develop better relationships with my friends and family too.

    • Wow, that’s great. After only one class you are feeling it already? Great to hear. Wait til you are at the end, you’re going to feel so much more confident to be all of who you really are. Plus it’s fun.

  3. Nice stuff Barbara. Liking your posts so far very much! Good to have another thing to reinforce what we get in classes.

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