Acting: basic principles and techniques for all medium:  In this chapter, I endeavor to observe the art of acting on all the medium of expression that accommodates it, rather than focus on stage acting only; a common practice when acting is treated. However, acting exists beyond the confines of the theatre, as we often have the art expressed on the television, film and radio media. Regardless of the medium, the relationship between an actor and his audience is more than just a mere performance and observation exercise, if anything, it is an exercise that allows for a little or no space at all between the two parties.


It is a connection that happens physically and emotionally as the actor takes the audience on a journey in search of a new and different experience. Today, the general principles of acting on stage are usually used for teaching and practicing acting on the screen and even the radio. However, there are unique features of acting on each medium.

Acting: basic principles and techniques for all medium:

Brief History of Acting

Performing Artists or Theatre practitioners are often referred to as Thespians. This is because the first official actor (official because his actions were the first to be documented) was called Thespis. In the ancient Greek which has Athens as it capital, there was a particular festival organized in honor of their god Dionysus, where a chorus involving about 50 performers sang the story to the very patient audience. In the 6th century however, the festival was improved and its scope was expanded.

Before Thespis, the chorus in all plays would sing in a narrative way, “Dionysus did this and that”. When Thespis stepped out of the chorus, he declared himself Dionysus – “I am Dionysus. I give you wine, fertility and all you require to enjoy life.” The chorus would usually perform selected hymns called dithyrambs, by singing the plot of the story. As a result of Thespis’s unique approach to the usual performances which had him recited poetry and personalized the story, as if it was his own story, the rest of the chorus also started adding lines to their performances. That singular dramatic event officially kick-started acting in the ancient Greek, with the template copied and improved on around the world.

French stage and early film actress Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ACTING: BASIC PRINCIPLES AND TECHNIQUES FOR ALL MEDIUM - Emmanuel T Olabayo
French stage and early film actress Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet

What is Acting

Lawal (2010) citing one of the foremost American, Branson Howard sees acting as the art of seeming to move, speak and appear on stage as the character assumed moves, speaks and appears in real life under the circumstances indicated in the play. Branson’s definition of acting looks at acting through the purview of impersonation, which is what acting, is.

However, the definition is deficient when one looks at the art outside of a stage performance, the medium Branson Howard wrote for. Also, Wilson (1962) defines acting as the process whereby an inner state of being of extraordinary intensity, composed of emotion, thoughts, and sensation is revealed in a dramatic manner to others by the external expression of an actor.

With Wilson’s definition of acting, the focus is on the tools that acting requires more than the platform on which it is expressed. In the search for a more complete definition that takes care of acting on all the medium, we turned to Wikipedia, which defines acting as an activity in which a story is told by means of enactment by an actor or actress who adopts a character in theatre, television, film, radio or any other medium that makes use of the mimetic mode.

With this definition, it is clear that though acting originated from the stage, the art today is not limited to the stage alone. Acting therefore is the impersonation of a character other than self, through the medium of stage, television, film, radio or any other medium that allows for dramatic expressions. Whether on stage or the screen, acting demands a high level of preparation, training, rehearsals, and discipline.


Who is an Actor

An actor is first an artist, and the major responsibility of an artist is simple; it is to make the audience see themselves in his art. Be it a painting, a sculpture, a dress, a musical composition, a poem, a play, etc. the art of an artist must reflect a part (s) of those the art is meant for. In her book, The Artist and The Tragedy of a Nation, Sofola (1994) sees an artist as one that must possess five important qualities:

  1. An artist must be a person with a purity of soul: Because acting requires an actor to reveal the truths about a character, it is important for the actor to have a soul that is pure and ready to experience the truth of others, and yet present these truths in the best way possible to the audience, who have come to the theatre to experience a moment of significant truth, though in a relaxed environment.
  2. An artist must possess a good level of divine spiritual connection with the Supreme Creative Essence: Because the Supreme is the primary Creator, an actor who is representing the most important creation of the Supreme in man, must be in connection with his creator for mental alertness, mental wellness and self-efficacy.
  3. An artist must reflect a beauty that is different from others: Because acting takes an actor into the lives of others, an actor is exposed to the beautiful and ugly parts of a character. It is the responsibility of the actor to learn from the experiences of a character, and as a result have an improved life. A life different from those around him.
  4. He must be talented and knowledgeable, and must not be seen to connive at immorality: Because acting requires some level of natural talents and skills, an actor must be seen to have appreciable talents, or at least the desire and a strong interest to develop the required skills for acting.
  5. He must be articulate and eloquent or else the people will not recognize his art let alone receive the message: Because acting is communication, an actor must be a good communicator. An actor’s voice which is an essential tool for acting must be properly engaged to communicate a clear message to the audience. An actor must also demonstrate a high level of intelligence, which is seen in his eloquence and how he addresses personal issues.

Looking at these qualities therefore, one will admit that to be a good actor is beyond just learning the techniques of acting, but understanding the roles of an actor within the context of the mimetic mode, and the context of an actor’s cosmos.

The main essence of an actor interpreting a character is to shine so much light on the character, such that nothing about the character’s truths is hidden from the audience. Even though actors could be made or born, the most important thing is that every professional actor must learn how to sharpen his/her skill and improve his/her act in the face of recent technological trends (Olabayo 2019).  In order to achieve this, an actor must constantly develop a healthy relationship between himself and his tools, having a reservoir where he can always go to whenever a character demand proper interpretation, irrespective of the medium he is acting on.


Actor’s Tools

For every profession, there are specific tools to enhance productivity and get the best results. For example, a medical doctor would usually use a stethoscope, a nurse an injection, and military person ammunitions. The profession of acting therefore also has specific tools that an actor must be aware of, and must use when involved in role-playing on the stage, the screen, and even on the radio.

These tools are structured into three broad areas The Mind, The Body, and The Voice. While acting in a theatrical performance before a live audience (stage) and in front of the camera (television and film) may require that an actor makes use of these three tools, acting on the radio basically requires an actor’s voice. Acting is communicated to the audience on radio through the proper use of the voice. The acting is in the voice. We will look at each of these tools one after the other.

The Mind

When the brain and the heart come in sync, the mind functions well. The mind of an actor is essential to acting because it is only a sane mind that can interpret appropriately. There are four parts of an actor’s mind; imagination, concentration, relaxation and observation.

a. Imagination

This is something an actor thinks of, reason or even visualized. It can also be an idea that is conceived as a result of an actor’s constant feeding of his imaginative sense. Imagination for an actor is creating a clear mental picture of his acting roles.

It is very important for an actor to have free and positive mind, a mind capable of creating unique imaginative experiences such that it has a general positive telling on the actor’s performance. At the other end of creating vivid pictures through the tool of imagination is the ability to recall past experiences, and also past pictures that an actor has created or pictured at one time or the other. Stanislavsky (1998) concept of Emotional Recall comes into play here, with the actor remembering how he/she acted when in similar position of the character he/she is interpreting.

2. Concentration

There are distractions everywhere. The activities of an actor are those that require utmost concentration. Actors are impersonators; they simply interpret characters that are totally different from their true self and person. Having the ability to concentrate optimally becomes an essential tool for an actor that wishes to deliver his character. An actor must therefore train his mind to always focus on what is most important in a given time, devoting himself totally to his craft. There are many concentration exercises that an actor can engage in before the actor goes on to perform the character. What is important is for the actor to know what works best for him/her.

3. Relaxation

This is a condition or state of the mind and the body where tension is reduced to its barest minimum. The demands of acting can put even the best actors under performance pressure and anxiety. However, for an actor to deliver best, the actor must not allow for pressure whatsoever. A relaxed actor is one who is in a state of restfulness and mental alertness. He his alert to his environment, alert to his co actors and alert to his audience.

4. Observation

For an actor, the ability to see, take note, study, find out interesting things about life, environment and the life of others around is extremely important. For an actor to observe as he should, he must deploy and engage all the five sensory organs (eyes, skin, ear, tongue and nose). Observation is similar to attention. An actor must know how to be attentive to the activities and events around him. These activities are what help his acting skills, since acting has been defined as imitation, an actor who is not a good observer therefore, cannot be a good imitator.


The Body

As we did for the mind, the actor’s body as his tool will be discussed under four important parts: Gestures, Facial Expressions, Mannerisms and Body Carriage. To deliver a believable performance, an actor must involve himself by using his entire body when acting. The actor’s body must be completely open and available for the expression of ideas and emissions. This is because the body is what the audience sees and it is through the body that an actor communicates and expresses all that is conceived in the mind.

a. Gestures

This is when an actor uses part of his body to pass across full message. The use of gesture usually is an attempt by an actor to give a non verbal communication through the use of a specific part of the body. The use of gesture is also determined by the medium on which an actor is acting on. While gestures are wild on stage, television and film allows for controlled gestures that fits the small acting space provided by camera. With radio however, gestures are not required.

b. Facial Expressions

Facial expression is the use of the face by an actor to communicate a feeling, emotion, approval or disapproval to the audience. In using facial expression, the actor’s mind, (especially his imagination and observation) comes into play. The face helps the actor’s expressions, and expressions are needed to make gestures used by an actor complete.

c. Body Carriage

This is the way an actor carries his body in accordance to the character an actor is playing. The use of the body   helps an actor to interpret a character well enough for the audience to understand. The way an actor carries his body while acting should exhibit the totality of the character the actor is interpreting. To put differently, an actor must through the use of his body, communicate to the audience what a character stand for. Again, the definition of acting at the beginning of this study sums it all up – the actor must move, speak and appear on stage as the character assumed moves, speaks and appears in real life.

d. Mannerisms

With mannerisms, we are looking at behavioral types that are a part of a person, and are usually expressed when the person is having a conversation with another. These are traits that have become habits, and they include natural body language, facial expressions and even direct eye contact. Mannerisms are behaviors that are natural and inherent in every human being.

As an actor therefore, understanding how mannerisms are formed and how best to use them helps in delivering a performance that is believable. The audience can identify these mannerisms because they use some and see those around them use others. When therefore, mannerisms are not properly engaged by an actor, the acting is distorted and the understanding of such by the audience may be affected.


The Voice

The voice is the most important tool for an actor. When one looks at acting on one of the popular traditional medium, radio, one would even understand the importance of the voice as a tool to an actor. With the stage and the screen, all that the body has got to offer in gestures, facial expressions, body carriage, and mannerisms are all part of what an actor engages to interpret a character. However, the voice is the only tool engaged on the radio.

Yet, an actor must communicate to the listener. In this study, the actor’s voice has been broken down into three parts of: Voice Variation, Voice Projection and Voice Clarity.

a. Voice Variation

To simply put, it is a conscious effort by an actor not to talk on the same monotonic plain. Voice variation just like music gives melody to an actor’s line delivery. An actor must not speak on the same tone, but rather he must artistically manipulate his voice to better deliver the words that the playwright has put in the mouth of the character.

It is important for an actor acting on any medium, to note that when there is full stop at the end of a line, it is downward inflection while question mark suggests upward tone inflection. An actor’s voice requires versatility in order to be able to communicate different emotions and feelings that will captivate members of the audience.

b. Voice Projection

Projection is not shouting, but rather it is speaking loud enough to be heard. An actor must not shout, because shouting is terrible to hearing and therefore is a form of noise. Nobody likes noise. When an actor speaks loud enough, especially on the stage, the actor is conscious of acting for the last person at the back of the auditorium. Therefore projection is a conscious effort made by an actor to speak from within, which takes consistent practice rather than speak from the throat, which is usually rough and unpleasant to the ear.

On the screen and radio media, the level of projection is usually reduced, except if it is required deliberately. This is because the technical equipments used on these media amplify the human voice already. Stage trained actors, when they take acting jobs on the screen for the first time battles with the use of their voice. Projection amounts to noise on the screen and on radio, however, efforts are laid on voice clarity and good speech.

c. Voice Clarity

The audience will understand the message an actor is passing across to the degree of how clear and audible the actor is. With the stage, once a message is lost or thrown to the wind by an actor, the audience has missed it completely. This is when you then see a member of audience trying to ask another audience member what an actor has said.

This may not necessarily be the case on television, film and radio acting because the viewer or listener can go back to hear certain words or sentences, and often the lines especially on film are subtitled. So while one may not hear an actor due to no or bad voice clarity, the subtitling will help. However, a professional must pay attention on the delivery of his lines and the rhythm of delivery. It is always advised that actors pick their and give proper stress to their words for clarity sake, rather than rush over for them.

Things that Aid an Actor’s Voice

  1. Voice Exercise: Like every part of the body, the voice also needs to be exercised regularly. Voice exercise involves playing with words in upward and downward tones, speaking in an empty space, and speaking as loud as possible in a space occupied with furniture and other items that absorb sound.
  2. Voice Maintenance: If the voice is the most important tool for an actor, then it requires proper maintenance. An actor must know what to eat and what not to eat, especially before using the voice to act. Iced water/drinks and oily meals are also not the best for an actor who is conscious of his voice and its quality. For an actor to get a better voice, warm water and lime first thing in the morning is advised.

Things an Actor must not do with his Voice

  1. An actor must not smoke because smoking destroys the vocal cord. The vocal cord is the channel through which sound is produced. Engaging in such activities like smoking will damage the vocal cord, and as such, capable of damaging the career of the actor.
  2. An actor must not scream or talk on top of his voice before a performance. It is important for actors to avoid arguments that can stress the voice when a performance is imminent.

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The Actor and his Mood

Every action is set in a particular mood; this is an atmosphere or an environment that an actor finds himself at a given time. An actor expresses mood through facial expressions, body language, voice and gesture. The coherent of these four is what communicates the mood of a character at a given period to the audience. The mood an actor exhibits must relate with the everyday feelings such as hope, rage, pity, frustration, discouragement etc. While a painter may paint with his brush, an actor paints with emotions.

These emotions are what make the actor the character the audience wants to see. An actor may not just be in the right mood to act a character, however, being a professional, an actor must go ahead to deal with it. It is usually advised that an actor drops whatever personal issues at the door of the play house or a film set, and pick the issues of only the character he is playing.

This can be achieved when an actor has a trained mind that focuses on the task of role playing, and with the help of simple but effective exercises before the performance, especially those that helps the actor to relax and concentrate, an actor can deal with such an experience.


The Actor and his Director

Play texts, screenplays and radio drama scripts are written to be performed by actors, and actors are to be directed. The relationship an actor must have with his director must be a very healthy one, if the actor will ever be able to bring the character he is interpreting to life. This relationship is a boss to staff relationship, where the director is the boss and the actor is the staff.

Every director must first be a good actor in his own right to be able to direct another actor on how best to interpret a character. An actor’s knowledge of this fact will help in trusting the director to be able to get the best out of his talent. While an actor must have a vision of the character he/she is playing, the director’s vision often supersedes that of the actor, because the director’s vision is expected to be broader.

This is because the vision of an actor is limited to his character, but the vision of the director covers acting, which is just an aspect of the production, and other aspects such as; lighting, costume, design, sound, music, props, make up, special effects, and many other arts that a production may require. The actor is therefore just a part of a whole, not the whole, but a very important part.

It is the proper use of all the elements that brings the entire production to life. While some have called for the actor’s theatre, where actors have total control on their arts, Oyewo (2000) says that giving an actor absolute freedom may be detrimental to the success of a performance, especially in such areas as discipline, which is an important part of performance.

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The Actor and his Audience

An actor exists because of the audience. It is a general notion, especially in the theatre, that the audience makes the greatest sacrifices. Not the director, not the actor or any other member of the production crew, but the members of the audience who has left family members, abandon important meetings, postponed personal projects, skipped a meal and sometimes borrow a penny to watch a show. On the stage for example, it is the combination of the actor and the audience that makes theatre. An actor has been said to only be rehearsing when the audience is not present.

However, having audience present takes an actor from the realm of rehearsing to performing. Lawal (2010) quoting Leslie Howard says that acting is partly audience and partly actor, and that the combination is a sublime communion.

The audience is more than just having a group of people coming together to pass time, the audience, and especially in Africa like Hubert Ogunde said are a part of the performance as they talk back at the performers. On stage for example, an actor gets an instant feedback from the audience.

If an actor is at his best, the audience will let him know, and if the actor is below his best, the audience at a live performance will also let the actor know, by showing their displeasure at his acting and role playing. Coleridge (1971) points out that there is a willing suspension of disbelief by the audience once they are watching a performance but that the level of this experience can only be sustained if the actors do not break the illusion of reality.

For the actor therefore, and on any medium, the feedback from the audience is very important to the development of the actor’s craft. For television and film acting, and with the use of the social media, audience is able to give feedbacks to their favorite actors using their social media pages. There are radio shows that also allow for phone-in from the audience in order to allow for feedbacks.

Regardless of the medium an actor is acting on, the audience is aware that the character the actor is playing is not real. However, they want the interpretation of the character by the actor to be close to been real, to be believable. For an actor to therefore make the audience believe, he must first believe in his abilities to deliver a plausible character.


Acting on Stage, Television, Film and Radio

The stage has been described as the mother of all performance media. Acting on stage therefore, is the oldest form of expressing the art of acting. It requires an actor engaging in several rehearsals in an attempt to embody a character and be able to deliver the character to a live audience. For the stage actor, the voice and the body are essential tools required to deliver a good performance. A stage actor must be aware that he or she is acting for every member of the audience in the auditorium; therefore, actions must be exaggerated while voice must be projected.

For television and film, the essential tools are still the voice and the body, but with less exaggeration and projection. This is because the camera is used to enhance gestures and the use of the body, while the microphone is used to improve the quality of sound. It is important to mention here that while we encourage actors to be stage trained, they must understand the modalities of acting for each medium. Often times, actors who are crossing from stage to television or film finds it difficult to fit into the small acting space required for television or film. On radio however, all an actor needs is the voice.

The peculiarity of the radio is such that is designed to appeal to the sense of hearing only. Therefore, the acting is in the voice only.  The onus is also on radio actors to articulate well enough, and improve on clarity while acting on the radio. For actors who are conscious of voice clarity and good speech, it has been suggested that they use their phones as a recording tool where they can record and listen to their performance over and again, for the purpose of improving their craft.


The Actor and the Audition Process

I have included this part in this study because of my field experience as an actor on all medium. It is important for intending actors to know how best to prepare for an audition in order to land an acting job. Like in other professions where applicants of a job are invited for an interview, an audition for an actor is an interview.

Therefore, all that a serious applicant must do to show a good first impression at a job interview in terms of keeping to time, dressing appropriately and behaving the best possible way are also important for an actor who is going for an audition. It is important to lay emphasis on dressing, as entertainers generally do not pay close attention to this part. Before the opportunity to express your talents, you are first seen as you are. If the dressing is indecent and unworthy, the possibility of missing out on the job is high, regardless of how talented the actor is.

These are the three things an actor should do before attending an audition:

  1. Preparation: An actor must prepare before attending an audition. Preparation in rehearsal, picking a monologue and acting in front of a mirror and/or family members or friends are very essential.  Regardless of the medium that an actor would be auditioned for, having a well rehearsed monologue is always important. Many actors attend auditions hoping that scripts will be provided, and on occasions where scripts are not provided, they are not prepared when asked to deliver a monologue.
  2. Take care of your body and voice: Like we have pointed out, the two most important tools for an actor are his voice and body. An actor therefore must take care of his body by involving in simple and light exercises, and also take care of his voice by avoiding foods and drinks that can have a bad effect on his voice.
  3. Research: An actor must research about the audition he or she will be attending and for what purpose the audition is for. The actor must also research the production company and look into their past projects to understand their philosophy.

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How to Become a Better Actor

Like other arts, acting on all medium can be improved by following these five rules:

  1. Pay Attention: An actor must observe, ask questions, talk to people, notice things and learn from others.
  2. Read: Reading uses the same part of the brain that an actor uses to act. Reading also opens up the mind and imaginative sense of an actor.
  3. Listen: Good actors speak more than they listen while better actors listen more than they speak. Because acting is role playing, listening to others afford an actor the opportunity to watch how others speak and learn from them. This is because of days when the actor will be required to act that character or something close.
  4. Become a Fan: An actor must be a fan of another actor who he likes. Having such a figure as a favorite helps the actor in learning so much from the actor, using the lessons to better his own craft.
  5. Live a Little: Acting takes so much from an actor; time, life, energy, everything. It is therefore advisable for an actor to have a private and enjoyable life outside of his career.

The best way to stand out in a ridiculously overcrowded field is to bring your whole self into the game. With all due respect to the great acting instructors out there, life and personal experiences are the best acting instructors. In the words of Socrates, you must “know thyself” as an actor before you can know and interpret other characters.



Lawal, H.O. 2010. Fundamentals of Theatre Arts. Ibadan: Glory- Land Publishing Company.

Coleridge, T. 1971. Directors on Directing. 4th ed. New Jersey: Prentice- Hall.

Olabayo. E. 2018. Basorun Gaa on the Stage and Screen Media of Performance: A Comparative Analysis. ACU Journal of Humanities. 1: 45-55.

Oyewo, K. 1999. Ola Rotimi’s Directorial and Managerial Philosophy: An Actor’s Experience. Abia Journal Humanities. 1: 219-234.

Stanislavski, C. 1988. An Actor Prepares. London: Methuen Publishing Limited.

Sofola, Z. 1994. The Artist and the Tragedy of a Nation. Ibadan: Caltop Publications.

Wilson. T. and Edwin. K.O. 1986. The Theatre Experience. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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