A topic that came up a lot this week was over-thinking scenes. But the question is not actually a matter of whether or not you’re over-thinking a scene, the question is whether or not you’re thinking about the right things.

This 1st Set of questions are examples of thinking about the wrong things:

How I should say this line.
What emotion am I feeling in this scene.
What should I do with my hands.
Where should I be looking.
How should I react to that line.
When should I yell/cry/get scared.
How should I (the actor) dress so I look good.

This 2nd Set of questions are examples of thinking about the right things:

What just happened before this scene.
What do I want.
What is stopping me from getting it.
What will I do if I don’t get what I want.
What kind of day have I had.
How do I feel about this person I’m speaking to.
What clothes would I (the character) put on given the circumstances and my needs….
And the multitude of questions focused on character development.

If you spend your time thinking about the right things, I guarantee you’ll have no issue with over-thinking. You’ll be grounded in the character and your performance will be loose and fluid.
If however, you spend your time thinking about the wrong things, no matter what you do in order to break free, whether you scream, laugh, whisper or cry, you’ll feel yourself trapped in a memorized performance.

In the video below I’m using Liz’s monologue from “‘Night Mother” to exemplify a loose and fluid performance, by comparing two takes of her monologue side by side. If Liz wanted to develop her performance further and were to spend time thinking about the 1st Set of questions above, you can easily see how that would only serve to deaden her performance. Thinking about the 2nd Set of questions however will deepen and enliven her performance.

So.. be honest with yourself. Where do you spend your time?

The 1st Set is tempting because it feels like those kinds of questions will have a direct impact on your performance (and they actually do, it’s just that it’s the wrong kind of impact).
The 2nd Set is more time consuming and less direct but they’re the ones that will get you to where you want to go.

We’ll see a huge difference in your work if you move all of your thinking over to 2nd Set. Do it this September.