AskDefine | Define actor

Dictionary Definition



1 a theatrical performer [syn: histrion, player, thespian, role player]
2 a person who acts and gets things done; "he's a principal actor in this affair"; "when you want something done get a doer"; "he's a miracle worker" [syn: doer, worker]

User Contributed Dictionary



From actor, (cognate: Ancient Greek άκτωρ (aktor) "leader", from άγω (agō) "to lead, carry, convey, bring").


  1. a person who performs in a theatrical play or film
  2. one who acts; a doer
  3. one who takes part in a situation
  4. An advocate or proctor in civil courts or causes.
  5. One who institutes a suit; plaintiff or complainant.
  6. (policy debate) One who enacts a certain policy action.
  7. The entity that performs a role (in use case analysis).


  • (person who performs in a theatrical play or film): actress (female), performer, player
  • (one who acts): doer
  • (one who takes part): participant
  • (advocate in civil courts or cases):
  • (a plaintiff): complainant, plaintiff
  • (one who enacts a policy action)
  • (entity performing a role in use case analysis): role


person who performs in a theatrical play or film
one who acts; a doer
one who takes part in a situation
advocate in civil courts or cases
one who enacts a policy action
entity performing a role in use case analysis

Related terms



Agent noun formed from actus, perfect passive participle of agere to do, + -or, agential ending


actor 3rd decl. (pl., actoris)
  1. doer
  2. actor (person who performs in a theatrical play or movie)

Related terms

Derived terms



  1. actor (person who performs in a theatrical play or movie)

See also




  1. actor




  1. actor (person who performs in a theatrical play or movie)

Related terms

Extensive Definition

An actor, actress, player or rarely thespian (see terminology) is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity. The ancient Greek word for an actor, (hypokrites), when rendered as a verb means "to interpret"; in this sense, an actor is one who interprets a dramatic character.


The word actor refers to one who acts, while actress refers specifically to a female who acts. The Oxford English Dictionary states that originally "'actor' was used for both sexes". The English word actress does not derive from the Latin actrix, probably not even by way of French actrice; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, actress was "probably formed independently" in English. As actress is a specifically feminine word, some feminists assert that the word is sexist. Gender-neutral usage of actor has re-emerged in modern English, especially when referring to male and female performers collectively, but actress remains a commonly used word.
The gender-neutral term player was common in film in the early days of the Production Code, but is now generally deemed archaic. However, it remains in use in the theatre, often incorporated into the name of a theatre group or company (such as the East West Players).


The first recorded case of an actor performing took place in 534 BC (probably on 23 November, though the changes in calendar over the years make it hard to determine exactly) when the Greek performer Thespis stepped on to the stage at the Theatre Dionysus and became the first known person to speak words as a character in a play or story. Prior to Thespis' act, stories were only known to be told in song and dance and in third person narrative. In honour of Thespis,a 6th century B.C poet, actors are commonly called Thespians. Theatrical legend to this day maintains that Thespis exists as a mischievous spirit, and disasters in the theatre are sometimes blamed on his ghostly intervention.
Actors were traditionally not people of high status, and in the Early Middle Ages travelling acting troupes were often viewed with distrust. In many parts of Europe, actors could not even receive a Christian burial, and traditional beliefs of the region and time period held that this left any actor forever condemned. However, this negative perception was largely reversed in the 19th and 20th centuries as acting has become an honored and popular profession and art. Part of the cause is the easier popular access to dramatic film entertainment and the resulting rise of the movie star—as regards both their social status and the salaries they command. The combination of public presence and wealth has profoundly rehabilitated their image.
In the past, only men could become actors in some societies. In the ancient Greece and Rome and the medieval world, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to go on the stage, and this belief continued right up until the 17th century, when in Venice it was broken. In the time of William Shakespeare, women's roles were generally played by men or boys. The British prohibition(Victor Andersen) was ended in the reign of Charles II who enjoyed watching female actors (actresses) on stage.



Acting and actresses employ a variety of techniques that are learned through training and experience. Some of these are:
  1. The rigorous use of the voice to communicate a character's lines and express emotion. This is achieved through attention to diction and projection through correct breathing and articulation. It is also achieved through the tone and emphasis that an actor puts on words
  2. Physicalisation of a role in order to create a believable character for the audience and to use the acting space appropriately and correctly
  3. Use of gesture to complement the voice, interact with other actors and to bring emphasis to the words in a play, as well as having symbolic meaning.
Shakespeare is believed to have been commenting on the acting style and techniques of his era when Hamlet gives his advice to the players in the play-within-the-play. He encourages the actors to “speak the speech ... as I pronounced it to you,” and avoid “saw[ing] the air too much with your hand” , because even in a “whirlwind of passion, you must ... give it smoothness.” On the other hand, Hamlet urges the players to “Be not too tame neither.” He suggests that they make sure to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action”, taking care to “o'erstep not the modesty of nature.” As well, he told the players to not “... let those that play your clowns ... laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too,” which Hamlet considered to be a “villainous” and “pitiful” tactic.
The English critic Benedict Nightingale discussed and compared great classical actors of the long dead past, and the present, and their magical effects upon audiences, in this 1983 article from the New York Times, available online.

As opposite sex

Historically, acting was considered a man's profession; so, in Shakespeare's time, for instance, men and boys played all roles, including the female parts. However when an eighteen year Puritan prohibition of drama was lifted after the English Restoration of 1660, women began to appear on stage. The first occurrence of the term actress in the OED being by Dryden in 1700.
In Japan, men (onnagata) took over the female roles in kabuki theatre when women were banned from performing on stage during the Edo period. However, some forms of Chinese drama have women playing all the roles.
In modern times, women sometimes play the roles of prepubescent boys. The stage role of Peter Pan, for example, is traditionally played by a woman, as are the principal boy and dame in British pantomime. This is uncommon in film, however, except in animated films and television programmes, where boys are sometimes voiced by women. For example, in The Simpsons the voice of Bart Simpson is provided by Nancy Cartwright. Opera has several "pants roles" traditionally sung by women, usually mezzo-sopranos. Examples are Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel, and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro.
Having an actor dress as the opposite sex for comic effect is also a long standing tradition in comic theatre and film. Most of Shakespeare's comedies include instances of overt cross-dressing, such as Francis Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum stars Jack Gilford dressing as a young bride. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon famously posed as women to escape gangsters in the Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot. Cross-dressing for comic effect was a frequently used device in most of the thirty Carry On films. Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams each appeared in a hit comedy film in which they played most scenes dressed as a woman.
Several roles in modern plays and musicals are played by a member of the opposite sex (rather than a character cross-dressing), such as the character Edna Turnblad in Hairspray — played by Divine in the original film, Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway musical, and John Travolta in the 2007 movie musical. Occasionally the issue is further complicated through a woman acting as a man pretending to be a woman, like Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria or Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love.

Acting awards

See also

Further reading

  • An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski (Theatre Arts Books, ISBN 0-87830-983-7, 1989)
  • A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method by Lee Strasberg (Plume Books, ISBN 0-452-26198-8, 1990)
  • Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner (Vintage, ISBN 0-394-75059-4, 1987)
  • Letters to a Young Actor by Robert Brustein (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00806-2, 2005).
  • The Alexander Technique Manual by Richard Brennan (Connections Book Publishing ISBN 1-85906-163-X, 2004)
  • The Empty Space by Peter Brook
  • The Technique of Acting by Stella Adler
  • Acting Power by Robert Cohen, (McGraw-Hill, 1987)
  • Acting Professionally: Raw Facts About Careers in Acting by Robert Cohen (2003). (McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-072-56259-5, 2003)

Works cited

  • Elam, Keir. 1980. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. New Accents Ser. London and New York: Methuen. ISBN 0416720609.
  • Weimann, Robert. 1978. Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function. Ed. Robert Schwartz. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801835062.


External links

actor in Tosk Albanian: Schauspieler
actor in Arabic: ممثل
actor in Asturian: Actor
actor in Bosnian: Glumac
actor in Bulgarian: Актьор
actor in Catalan: Actor
actor in Czech: Herec
actor in Welsh: Actor
actor in Danish: Skuespiller
actor in German: Schauspieler
actor in Modern Greek (1453-): Ηθοποιός
actor in Spanish: Actuación
actor in Esperanto: Aktoro
actor in Persian: هنرپیشه
actor in French: Acteur
actor in Scottish Gaelic: Actair
actor in Galician: Actor
actor in Korean: 배우
actor in Croatian: Glumac
actor in Ido: Aktoro
actor in Indonesian: Pemeran
actor in Italian: Attore (spettacolo)
actor in Hebrew: שחקן
actor in Georgian: მსახიობი
actor in Latin: Actor
actor in Lithuanian: Aktorius
actor in Hungarian: Színész
actor in Macedonian: Актер
actor in Malay (macrolanguage): Pelakon
actor in Dutch: Acteur
actor in Japanese: 俳優
actor in Norwegian: Skuespiller
actor in Norwegian Nynorsk: Skodespelar
actor in Novial: Aktore
actor in Uzbek: Aktyor
actor in Polish: Aktor
actor in Portuguese: Actor
actor in Romanian: Actor
actor in Quechua: Aranway pukllaq
actor in Russian: Актёр
actor in Albanian: Aktori
actor in Simple English: Actor
actor in Slovak: Herec
actor in Slovenian: Filmski igralec
actor in Serbian: Глумац
actor in Serbo-Croatian: Glumci
actor in Finnish: Näyttelijä
actor in Swedish: Skådespelare
actor in Tagalog: Artista
actor in Thai: นักแสดง
actor in Vietnamese: Diễn viên
actor in Tajik: Ҳунарпеша (филм)
actor in Turkish: Aktör
actor in Ukrainian: Кіноактор
actor in Yiddish: אקטיאר
actor in Chinese: 演員

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Artful Dodger, Casanova, Don Juan, Machiavel, Machiavelli, Machiavellian, Roscius, actress, affecter, agent, antagonist, antihero, architect, author, bad guy, bamboozler, barnstormer, befuddler, beguiler, bit, bit part, cast, character, character actor, character man, character woman, charmer, child actor, counterfeiter, creator, cue, deceiver, deluder, diseur, diseuse, dissembler, dissimulator, dodger, doer, double-dealer, dramatizer, duper, enchanter, entrancer, executant, executor, executrix, fabricator, fake, faker, fat part, feeder, foil, fooler, forger, fraud, gay deceiver, heavy, hero, heroine, histrio, histrion, hoaxer, hollow man, hypnotizer, impersonator, ingenue, jilt, jilter, joker, jokester, juvenile, kidder, lead, lead role, leading lady, leading man, leading woman, leg-puller, lines, mainstay, maker, man of straw, mannerist, matinee idol, medium, mesmerizer, mime, mimer, mimic, misleader, monologist, mover, mummer, operant, operative, operator, pantomime, pantomimist, paper tiger, part, partaker, participator, party, performer, perpetrator, person, personage, phony, piece, plagiarist, plagiarizer, playactor, player, practical joker, practitioner, pretender, prime mover, producer, protagonist, protean actor, ragger, reciter, role, role-player, seducer, sharer, side, soubrette, spoofer, stage performer, stage player, stooge, straight man, straight part, straw man, stroller, strolling player, subject, supporter, supporting character, supporting role, sustainer, tease, teaser, theatrical, thespian, title role, trouper, upholder, utility man, villain, walk-on, walking part, worker
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