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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.

History[change | edit source]

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 happened 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 been a person in the story. Today we call actors "thespians" because of Thespis.

Naming[change | edit source]

In the past, the name "actor" was only for men. Women only began performing often in the 17th century. When they began, people called them the "actresses" . In the ancient world and in the Middle Ages, people thought it was bad (shameful) for a woman to act. People thought this 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, because some people think the name "actress" is sexist. But people also use the word actress very often.

Actresses in men's roles[change | edit source]

Women actors sometimes act the roles of young boys, because in some ways a woman is more similar to a boy than a man is. For example a woman usually plays the role of Peter Pan. In pantomime, a sort of play for children (not the same as mime), the most important young man is also a woman. Opera has some "pants roles" which women traditionally sing. These women are usually mezzo-sopranos, which means they sing with a voice that is high but not very high. 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.

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.

Voice acting[change | edit source]

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 be the narrator in non-animated works.