When Dramatic Interpretation Gets Gritty

Should I be bold and explosive or intense and reserved?  This is a common problem faced by Dramatic Interpretation performers nationwide.  How best to handle That Scene.  You know The One.  It's where emotions fly and words are spoken that can never be unheard and forgotten.  Be warned though, if you choose to be BIG then you walk a fine line between hitting it and being ridiculous.  Recall any B-movie, or most action/horror films, and relive the moment when a young actor relishes in being able to use their "acting chops" and really lets loose.  This is typically the moment in the movie when what is meant to be a serious, passionate scene turns comical from the over-acting; a clear case of trying far too hard.  Even seasoned professionals have these flashes of poor acting.  Any actor can have an off-day, call it in, or be baffled by the material's content.  It happens.  Whenever emotions are involved it becomes effortless to lose control, or miss-interpret, and become a train-wreck.  Dramatic Interpretation mirrors acting in that a DI competitor can follow one of three paths:

  1. Under-Act
  2. Hit the Mark
  3. Over-Act

As under-acting is readily spotted, and has one solution, little will be said regarding the issue.  Whenever you have watched a performance and you wished the actor did more, or you felt they under-reacted to a situation, they were under-acting.  Wooden, perhaps?  Most actors will tell you it is better to over-act than under-act.  Why?  Because at least with over-acting you tried, and it is far easier to pull-back instead of grow.  Dramatic Interpretations can get snooze-worthy quick with under-acting as well.  Do not be afraid to let loose and explore emotion.  Push yourself and feel the pain, joy, anger, etc. your characters are living!  When you go too far someone will pull you back.

The other two categories are easy to define but sometimes hard to separate.  Hitting the mark details being so honest and realistic that your audience really does believe, momentarily, that you are suffering from your DI's dilemmas.  Over-acting is like when you walk into a room and get hit by an Axe bomb; at first it's nice but then you feel the hammer of nausea smashing you because someone wants to scream how wonderful they smell.  Usually, either category is clear, defined.  However, there are times when one may call over-acting "gritty" or "raw" while another calls it "comical" and "fake."  Acting is subjective, and in borderline situations judge preference on acting can be the determining factor on whether you were over-the-top or being "in the moment."  It's rough, but true.  So what should you do?  Be the polished, controlled Dramatic Interpretation performer, or the fiery one bursting with emotion?  Why not both?

Variation is to an actor what The Force is to a Jedi.  If you know how to use variation your Dramatic Interpretation will be enhanced ten-fold.  A DI should have moments of quiet, gripping force waiting to erupt...and a DI should have those detonations of energy.  It is all about appropriate timing and build.  To avoid being labeled as over-acting create a build to your burst.  Do not linger too long in that fiery state, but gradually come down.  Creating this arch will add more intensity than if you just yelled all your lines.  The anticipation to when you blow makes that moment more powerful than can be imagined.  Further, you have to be as honest with your emotions as can be.  Simply yelling to yell is a poor choice and certainly is over-acting.  However, raising your voice as a response/method to attain a desire can be truthful and therefore allow you to be jarring yet with purpose.  

A few actors that have this mastered include Robert DeNiro, James Dean, and Al Pacino.  These men are known for their intensity.  Yes, occasionally they went over-board, but usually they are spot on.  Take for instance Al Pacino.  Rent Godfather or Scent of a Woman and marvel in his transitions from calm to atomic warhead.  Even his calm is more of the eye of the storm.  The smoldering emotion can be seen in his eyes and the tenseness of his body.  Quiet can be unnerving if played correctly.  

Dramatic Interpretations can still be gritty while being refined (it sounds like an oxymoron, but truly it is possible!).  You do not have to give up that raw, blunt edge you desire while preparing a polished piece for a round.  Balance is the solution.  And context for what feel your DI piece offers.  Find a tone that meshes with your material and build emotional arches to support your outbursts.  Do this, and your Dramatic Interpretation will be shocking yet believable.