You want to give an amazing performance. Of course - who doesn’t! You want to rip up the stage like Bradley Cooper or Meryl Streep. You want to deliver a performance that turns the acting world upside down. But…
You don’t want to be seen to be acting. Or over-acting, or acting - they are now considered the same thing.
Because these days, actors think that to be caught acting is the highest crime. And so they deliberately resist any attempt to give their work dynamics of size and speed which might look ‘too big’.
You are a generation that has seen more film and television than theatre and opera. And for that reason, your measure of a good performance is an on-camera performance. And anything that might take you away from the televisually naturalistic performance causes you great fear.
This fear of being caught ‘over-acting’ is so tremendous that actors will avoid anything that doesn’t feel ‘real’. And as they do not have a solid criteria for what ‘real’ might actually be, they use a simpler gauge - what feels normal to them.
The words real and truth and honesty are useful in discussing how someone else’s performance felt to us. But when it’s used as a measurement of our own performance, it's very difficult.
Honest. Honesty. What does that mean? Not a lie, not false, not pretend? The big problem is that when we measure our own performance as honest, we are likely to discriminate against all the things we could do to make the performance interesting.
Because let’s be clear - it IS a performance. It is not a documentary.
When a performance is true, that’s a good thing. But when that truth outweighs the performance’s capacity to captivate, to entertain, to hold our attention - that’s when truth is an obstacle.
Actors seem to be afraid to act. But that very feeling of fear should excite you. When you feel that fear, you have to learn to see it as a good sign. It means that you are about to step into a zone where your performance can become truly compelling. Yes, yes, you could also be a hammy old ham, but that’s part of the craft of being an actor, riding that wave, balancing on the beam between too much and too little.
My advice to you, the moment you feel fear of overdoing it - over do it. See what happens. Sometimes you might do too much, but very often, the reaction of the people you are working with is shocking - they are affected. You give a much better performance.
This fear of acting has taught a generation of actors to make invisible choices. My best advice, give up on your fear, when you feel it, lean it.