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Actor facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
I dream of jeannie hagman eden
Actors Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden from the TV show "I dream of Jeannie"
The Munsters 1964
The Munsters - from left Yvonne De Carlo (Lily), Fred Gwynne (Herman), Bevereley Owen (Marilyn) and Al Lewis (Grandpa) 1964

An actor is a person who acts, or has a role (a part) in a movie, television show, play, or radio show. Sometimes actors only sing or dance, or sometimes they only work on radio. A woman actor is also an actress, but today most people use the word "actor" for both men and women.


Athen Theatre of Dionysus BW 2017-10-09 14-29-49
Athens Theatre of Dionysus

The first time we know an actor worked was in 534 B.C., probably on November 23. The changes in calendar between then and now means that we are not sure it was November 23.

This actor was called Thespis and he was Greek. The place where the play was viewed was called the Theatre Dionysus. He was the first person to speak words as a character. This was a big change in storytelling.

Before then, people sang and danced stories, but no one had acted as a character in a story. Today we call actors "thespians" because of Thespis.


Lois Wilson (actress) by Edwin Bower Hesser
Lois Wilson (actress)

In the past, the name "actor" was only for men. Women only began performing often in the 17th century. People called them the "actresses". In the ancient world and in the Middle Ages, people thought it was shameful for a woman to act. This was thought until the 17th century.

In the time of William Shakespeare, men and boys played women's roles, but women may have acted secretly.

Today, the word "actor" is for both men and women, though people still also use the word actress.

Swapped Roles

Actresses in Men's Roles

Actor Maude Adams playing the part of Peter Pan in 1915

Women actors sometimes played the roles of young boys. For example, a woman usually played the role of Peter Pan. Opera has some acts in which women traditionally sing. These women are usually mezzo-sopranos, which means they can sing with a voice that is high.

Mary Pickford on Beach with Camera, ca. 1916 (LOC)
Mary Pickford on Beach with Camera, ca. 1916

Examples are Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel, and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro.

Mary Pickford played the part of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" in the first film version of the book. Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in The Year of Living Dangerously, in which she played the part of a man.

MoMI NYC - Mrs. Doubtfire mask (14886101309)
Robin Williams played the part of - Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993

In comic theatre and film, people often use a man for a woman's part, or a woman for a man's part - this has a long history. Most of Shakespeare's comedies have examples of this.

Both Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams were in popular comedy films where they played most scenes as men in women's clothes, pretending to be women.

Actors in Women's Roles

Martin Lawrence played the part of a woman in Big Momma's House

Most notably in Shakespearean plays, all roles in a play were played by men, characters such as Juliet, Lady Macbeth, and Cleopatra were first played by men or boys. This was due to the patriarchal (male dominated) society of Shakespearean times where women were not allowed to perform on-stage.

More recently men have played female roles in humorous movies. Movies with this role reversal include Mrs. Doubtfire (Robin Williams), Tootsie (Dustin Hoffman), Big Momma's House (Martin Lawrence), Hairspray (John Travolta), and The Nutty Professor (Eddie Murphy).

Voice acting

Mel Blanc - 1959
Mel Blanc famous voice actor for Bugs Bunny and numerous other roles

Voice acting is a special type of acting. It is most commonly used in animation for both television and movies.

Voice actors are the people who make the voices for the characters. They may also be the narrator in non-animated works.


Actors working in theatre, film, and television have to learn different skills. Skills that work well in one type of acting may not work well in another type of acting.

In theatre

Cruikshank Pierce' Egan's Real Life - Drury Lane Theatre 1821
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, circa 1821

To act on stage, actors need to learn the stage directions that appear in the script, such as "Stage Left" and "Stage Right". These directions are based on the actor's point of view as he or she stands on the stage facing the audience. Actors also have to learn the meaning of the stage directions "Upstage" (away from the audience) and "Downstage" (towards the audience).

Theatre actors need to learn blocking, which is where and how an actor moves on the stage during a play. Most scripts require some blocking. The director will also give instructions on blocking, such as crossing the stage or picking up and using a prop.

Richard Burton and Julie Andrews Camelot
Richard Burton and Julie Andrews in Broadway production of the musical Camelot

Theatre actors need to learn stage combat, which is simulated fighting on stage, they may have to simulate "hand-to-hand fighting or with sword-fighting." Actors are coached by fight directors, who help them to learn the choreographed sequence of fight actions.

In film

D. W. Griffith first developed acting that would "suit the cinema rather than the theater." He realized that theatrical acting did not look good on film. Griffith required his actors and actresses to go through weeks of film acting training.

Film actors have to learn to get used to and be comfortable with a camera being in front of them, they also need to learn to find and stay on their "mark." This is a position on the floor marked with tape. This position is where the lights and camera focus are optimized.

Film actors also need to learn how to prepare well and perform well on screen tests. Screen tests are a filmed audition of part of the script.

Unlike the theater actor, who gets to develop a character during a two- or three-hour performance, the film actor lacks continuity, forcing him or her to come to all the scenes (often shot in reverse order in which they'll ultimately appear) with a character already fully developed.

Dick York Bewitched 1968
Dick York acting in the TV show Bewitched 1968

Since film captures even the smallest gesture and magnifies it the film actor must rely on subtle facial ticks, quivers, and tiny lifts of the eyebrow to create a believable character. Some theatre stars have made the theater-to-cinema transition quite successfully, Olivier, Glenn Close, and Julie Andrews, are good examples.

In television

On a television set, there are typically several cameras angled at the set.

Actors who are new to on-screen acting can get confused about which camera to look into.

TV actors need to learn to use lav mics (Lavaliere microphones) and need to understand the concept of "frame." The term frame refers to the area that the camera's lens is capturing.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Actor para niños

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