Stage to Screen. Stage Acting vs Screen Acting with Hannah Carter

Thomas Burns Scully

OnStage New York Columnist

Almost all formal acting training makes theatre its focus. Which is interesting, given that for almost any actor, TV and film is where the real money is made. Almost all drama schools now offer at least some kind of acting on camera class, but stage work will always be the focus. We’re not here today to question the validity of that, but we are here to talk to someone who has made the jump from extensive stage training to working almost exclusively on camera. Meet British stage actress turned LA film darling, Hannah Carter.

Carter hails from Enfield in the UK, and has been in the States for almost 4 years now. “Enfield is such a small town in London I get really excited when people know of it in Los Angeles,” she says fondly. Carter came to the States to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the world’s oldest English speaking drama school. Its past graduates have include Robert Redford, Paul Rudd, Grace Kelly and Adrien Brody, to name but a few. “It was a great honor to be accepted in to an institution with that kind of a legacy. You have to keep perspective, and stay grounded, but it’s also nice to enjoy that moment of ‘Oh my God! They want me!’,” she says of receiving news of her acceptance. After completing the main body of the course, she was invited to the Academy’s prestigious extra year, known as the Academy Company. “It was exhausting,” she says, “we were constantly rehearsing or performing, but it was a great time for honing and nailing down my craft.” 

With a strong cross-continental theatre background, Carter seemed set to start a traditional stage actress’s career, but instead, she moved directly into working on film and new media. “I’d like to say it was a deliberate move, but actually it just sort of… happened. I never said ‘No more stage!’ or anything like that, but the projects that came my way were just all camera stuff.” These projects have included comedy series ‘Having It All’ where she plays a woman with a husband and boyfriend, who suddenly discovers she’s pregnant. “That was a lot of fun. There hasn’t been a better time to be doing woman-centric comedy, so it felt like we really hit the zeitgeist with that one.” Her career is definitely in an upward tick, given her involvement in Malcolm McDowell suspense vehicle ‘The Mystery of Casa Matusita’, directed by Catherine C. Pirotta and produced by Tegan Summer of Prospect House Entertainment. That was another ‘Wait, really? Actually me?’ moment. It’s just really nice to be validated by the people choosing to hire you. I can’t wait.” The film is in pre-production, and slated for next year.


Her other work includes a script currently being looked at by Amazon, and the self-written ‘Blood Balloons’, which will be filming soon. “That one has a strong personal edge for me, as you’d imagine. It’s about PTSD and letting go. That’s all I’ll say for now, but… watch this space.”And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But how did that skill set migrate from the boards to celluloid? “Well, I was lucky enough to come out of a great training program, first off. They made sure I knew my onions,” she begins, “they instilled in us quickly that while there is a technical difference between stage work and film work, the core process is identical. We had great acting on camera classes to teach us what those technical difference are, though that’s never quite enough to prep you for being on a fully-functional film-set, and then… there was just a lot of trusting myself. And trusting the people around me. I don’t think I could have done any of what I have done if those first few projects weren't with good people.” The answer then, is less ethereal than you’d expect. There is no alchemy to making the change, beyond what alchemy you already ascribe to the acting process.

In closing, we asked Carter what she would define as the ultimate difference between stage and screen acting. “More tea breaks on film,” she laughs, in stereotypical British fashion, “I think that threw me a bit at the beginning, all the ‘Hurry up and wait’. Stage is a marathon, film is like a sprint. Or like… lots and lots of short sprints. Once you get the hang of that rhythm though… it all just settles in to a groove.” And there you have it, the difference between stage and screen. It’s all in the pacing. Keep an eye out for Hannah Carter’s upcoming projects on screens near you. But will you see her on stage again any time soon? “I’d never say no. But it’s just not where I’m at right now. We’ll see.”

This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US, the Abbey Theatre Dublin and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His theatrical writing has been performed on three continents. He performs improv comedy professionally and plays a mean lead guitar. He has been referred to as the thrifty person’s Renaissance man. 

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