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The Difference Between Theater & Cinema

Theater is a live art medium.
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Theater and cinema are two different art mediums that incorporate some similar aspects such as acting and theatrics. They have many major differences as well. Learning the differences between theater and cinema can help you to determine which medium you might enjoy more as entertainment or prefer as a career.


Theater has stage venues such as in a play house, whereas films are played anywhere with a screen or projector. Theater holds a deeper connection between the audience and actors because the audience is seeing the character’s story happen right in front of them as if peeking into the actual life of a stranger. Cinema is limited to a two-dimensional screen and has more distraction from the actual characters through things like different camera angles, special effects or scenery shots.


The presentation itself is very different between the two. Theater occurs live in front of an audience. Cinema is recorded and two-dimensional. With a prerecorded medium, the audience can expect the same piece of art over and over, whereas in theater the live art can differ each time. Theater, however is limited to what can be portrayed on a stage. While you can have many different sets and lighting, you can not use many different locations and angles as cinema can.

Creative Process

With plays actors and behind-the-scenes crews work together to prepare and put on each performance to ensure the front and backstage flow well. For example when an actor on stage is waiting for a light cue or musical cue from the backstage. In cinema there are different departments such as actors, special effects and musical composers who work separately and may never interact, and in the end editors will bring all the different crews' work together.


The origins of each medium are very different, and the lengths of time they have existed are also different. Theater can be traced back to ancient Grecian times and began as a religious medium. Cinema originated amid technological advances in the early 1900s, when pictures were captured on cameras and then turned into films. Cinema has seen rapid growth since it’s origins, whereas theater has stayed relatively close to its original performance-style medium, although stage lighting and sets have evolved.

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