When I was in high school, I wanted nothing more than to be an animator for Walt Disney Studios. And so I’d buy (and actually read) all those huge hardcover books all about the history and technique behind the unique quality of Disney animation.
I remember this one passage in The Art of Animation where animator Dave Hand talked about a scene he had done of Mickey Mouse riding in a rickety jalopy of a taxi cab. The taxi was supposed to round the corner, blow a tire, which would then cause the body of the whole car to sag and the license plate to come loose and flip around, upside down.
So Dave drew it painstakingly perfectly, just so.
When Walt Disney reviewed the scene, he told Dave it didn’t have enough action and asked him to do it over.
Now this was in the heyday of hand-drawn animation, so to redraw a scene was no small feat. We’re talking hundreds if not thousands of individual frames, hours upon hours of work.
But Walt was the boss-man, so Dave did it again; and again Walt said it wasn’t quite right — not broad enough or funny enough.
So Dave went back to the drawing board, literally. Again. And again. And yet again.
Six times total Dave redid this scene, and after the fifth rejection, he was so frustrated that he basically said to himself, “To hell with it!” He drew the whole scene in such a way that was so extreme and grossly distorted that he was sure Walt would say he’d gone too far this time.
He presented it to Walt, and Walt reviewed it a few times. Dave was certain that Walt would tell him to go back for round seven, but instead, Walt told him, “That’s just what I wanted!”
Sometimes, you’ve got to go so far beyond normal that it feels absurd, and then you get it just right.
So after that, Dave adopted a new philosophy when doing any animation for Disney — one that he passed on to his trainees. He would ask them to “make it so extreme that you make me mad.”
That advice can relate to a lot of areas in life, but particularly to stage craft.
Anytime you’re up on a stage, your movement and speech needs to be more extreme than normal.
I won’t go so far as to say “larger than life,” because that’s truly only appropriate for certain circumstances; and honestly, I think the phrase is a bit overused.
But it’s never just “ordinary.”
When I was in a theater company, we ran rehearsals for the show as many shows do. But on the night of our dress rehearsal, our Director announced that this one would be an “O.T.T. rehearsal.”
I looked around, confused for several moments until a sympathetic cast member leaned over to whisper and fill me in. Apparently, “O.T.T.”stood for “Over The Top.”
I’m a pretty reserved person by nature and so I had no idea what to do with that, at first. Until I watched what my fellow cast members were doing with it.
Let me tell you… That night’s rehearsal was the funniest production of a Shakespeare tragedy I’ve ever seen!
Rosencranz was kissing, bitch-slapping and mooning Hamlet all in the same scene. (Our production’s Rosencranz was a woman, and she played her as Hamlet’s friend-with-benefits.) The Gravedigger was almost making out with Yorrick’s skull before Hamlet had his little soliloquy. Guildenstern was practically pole-dancing for Queen Gertrude as Rosencranz turned her attention to chugging wine and flirting her ass off with King Claudius, once it became apparent that Hamlet had a thing for Ophelia.
It turned a normally somber play into a drunken Danish frat party. Until it all goes to hell at the end and everyone dies, of course.
But I digress…
The point of the O.T.T. rehearsal was so that we would shake off convention and try new and radically different approaches, just for the hell of it.
Wonderful things can come out of taking big risks and seeing how they play out, from exaggerating something to the point of grotesqueness, and just from pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
In addition, it’s a great way to find out which scenes or movements aren’t projecting as far as you thought they were. Stage acting is not like film or TV acting, where the camera can move in for tight close-ups to show the micro-expressions on your face.
No … A stage is the place where you’ve got to move a little bigger than usual, talk a bit louder than you normally would, more articulately than you typically might — all for the sake of making sure that the audience can “read” your movement and understand what you’re saying, even all the way back from the cheap nosebleed-section seats.
It’s almost never like you would do something in real life.
It’s always over-the-top, exaggerated, “bigger,” in one way or another.
We ended up tossing a lot of what came out in that O.T.T. rehearsal, but we kept a few of the prize gems that we unearthed. And sure enough, every night the show ran, those were the points that took the audience by surprise and got a true belly-laugh in the most unexpected of places.
So the next time you’re presenting, record it and then review that video afterward, to note where you could go “bigger” in your movement, in your expressions, in your word choice, or in your delivery. Figure out where you could play around a little and switch things up. Go so far that it’s a bit uncomfortable and then see how it feels, see how it plays out.
Note those changes, and try them out next time you’re in front of a new audience. Then see how they react to them.
Record again, review and take notes again, and then try it again.
It’s an ongoing process, just like lather-rinse-repeat.
And like all forms of art, it’s never really “done.”
But every time you do it, you get better and better.
Have you ever tried this before? If so, let me know in the comments how it worked out for you!
And if you found this helpful, please share it with a friend.
Check back again soon where I’ll share some more tips on crafting a performance to remember, so that your message can have a bigger impact and you can create greater influence in your career as a speaker and thought leader.