People in NCFCA do it All. The. Time.
I know I was guilty of it as well when I competed. It was very tempting to follow the cliches and make all my villains sneery, obnoxious, and loud. And to have my protagonists wail and weep in animated sorrow. Now that I've graduated I realize how bad these decisions probably were. It's amazing what you notice as a judge that you didn't notice as a competitor...
I honestly feel like NCFCA has developed several unfortunate patterns and cliches in the interpretive categories, particularly dramatic speeches. Soooooo many times I've seen students make their characters caricatures by focusing more on the animation and intensity and less on the development and meaning behind their characters' thoughts and actions. The crying victimized hero. The screeching, oppressive villain, intent on making everyone's (including the audience's) days positively miserable. It's tempting to follow this pattern, but I think it's time to step back and really give your acting some consideration. Yes, this is NCFCA and not a movie set or Broadway. But that's not an excuse for mediocrity when you could have greatness.
Overracting is ultimately disadvantageous and takes away from your performance in several significant ways. First, it becomes a crutch. To follow generic cliches is a way to sidestep real development and real motivations. Seeing a villain screaming bloody murder for half your speech doesn't tell me a darn thing about the character at all. It's not enough to assume your characters are villains, it's important that we need understand why. Same for heroes and protagonists for that matter. Underdeveloped characters are harder to care about. They lack form and substance. They're caricatures. Avoid that.
Furthermore, it can be grating. I saw a Open at Nats a couple days ago that was mostly shrieking and crying. It was difficult to sit through. Even worse, it didn't feel genuine. Overracting is the death of genuineness and the birth of fakery. It almost never looks honest. It almost always looks rehearsed. In front of me isn't a victim seeing a friend die a terrible death, but a student going through motions carefully rehearsed in front of a mirror. Guys, it's the definition of "scenery-chewing."
Too harsh? I don think so. Watch more movies and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
One of the elements on interp ballots references the student's ability to effectively create scenes in the audiences' minds. This element has too often been overlooked, but it is so important. The interps I always enjoyed most are the ones that looked real and felt genuine. Real pain, real love, real feelings. Not just a list of rehearsed emotions. Those interps always made me feel like I was glimpsing a scene from a film or a play. They felt PROFESSIONAL.
Sometimes there is genuine intensity and emotion supported by development and motivations. Tell-Tale Heart is an easy piece to do well because Poe helps us along the way with a fascinating character, gorgeous prose, and an intelligently terrifying portrait of descending madness. There's reality in such a story. There's truth. It's much easier to be genuine because you have all the ingredients. Sometimes intensity is called for, but only when it's provided and supported by your source material. It should never be used as an excuse to create caricatures.
The truth is, often times less is more. Most people don't remember that when practicing in front of a mirror. But it's true. There was one dramatic piece I saw at Nats that was particularly memorable because of how reserved it was. There were no sweeping animated movements. No grating villains. No screeching no crying. And what I realized when watching that piece was how much the reserved performance helped shift the focus from the performer to the performer's characters and their inner conflicts. It felt professional, it felt like a movie. And I realized how much a barrier overacting is to such empathy. Because it shifts the attention to the actor and not to what the actor is performing. Scenery-chewing.
It's time for a little more honesty...
EDIT: Looking back over this post I realize how long and ranty it is
Hope people read it though, because this is a relatively pervasive problem in NCFCA, and I'd love to see it diminish.