Strategies: Interpretation Checklists

interp speech techniques Jan 01, 2021

Strategies: Interpretation Checklists

  • Even actors with years of experience can struggle when they dive into the world of interpretation events. I remember watching perfectly good performers fail to rank above third place in a round, no matter how well-memorized or polished they were. 
  • If you’re someone who feels like they’ve hit a ceiling and don’t know if they want to stay in interpretation, you’re not alone. I’ve heard from dozens of students who don’t know how to get better. That’s why I’ve decided to compile a list of questions that judges often take into consideration when watching interpretation rounds (Humorous, Dramatic, DUO, Programmed Oral Interpretation, Storytelling, Declamation -- you name it!) . Whether you’re jumping into interpretation events for the first time, or you think it’s time for a tune-up, here are some tools to help you break through that ceiling and reach another level of interpretation success.
  • QUESTION #1: WHAT’S THE POINT OF THIS PIECE?
    • All of the best stories aren’t just entertaining--they’re educational. They have a message. We learn something, consciously or not, from them. Sometimes, this is obvious (think about Aesop’s Fables). Every now and then, it’s not as clear (dozens of authors have tried to pick apart the philosophy of Peanuts). But, as an interp competitor, it’s your obligation to choose a piece that has “something to say” about a societal problem. 
    • Dramatic Interpretation tends to tackle heavy issues (ableism/racism/sexism/transphobia/homophobia, death/loss, assault). Programmed Oral Interpretation often involves a more specific take on a Dramatic Interp topic (you wouldn’t choose something as a broad as ‘discrimination’ - you might bring light to a very specific experience, like the 2017 NSDA National POI Champion; he argued that we must confront the stigma suffered by queer black men living with HIV/AIDS). 
    • Even Humorous Interpretation and Storytelling need a clear moral. The 2016 NSDA National HI Champion used comedy to argue that living our lives in fear and allowing anxiety to dominate our actions causes misery. The 2020 NSDA National Storytelling Champion contended that retelling classic stories to call attention to their hypocrisies can expand our perspectives. 
    • If your piece doesn’t have an argument--if it has nothing to say about the human condition--it will almost certainly fall short of the pieces that do.
  • QUESTION #2: WHY DO YOU CARE?
    • It’s not enough to choose a piece with a good moral: this message has to matter to you. In fact, if you don’t communicate it, you have no guarantee that someone else will. Selecting source material that you really love makes a tangible difference. Don’t go with the first selection you find online. Don’t create a carbon copy of some national finalist’s speech. There is nobody in the world exactly like you and there will never be anybody else in the world exactly like you. Showcase your unique spirit by choosing a DI or DEC with a message about a larger societal issue that strongly resonates with you. Select a Storytelling that helped define your childhood. Your purpose and passion will pay off.
  • QUESTION #3: ARE YOU OPTIMIZING YOUR TALENTS?
    • There are a lot of amazing skills that you can showcase in a performance. Do you have a talent for beatboxing? Can you do a really good Obama or Trump impression? Do you have a background in dance or martial arts? Are you a whistling virtuoso? Select a piece that allows you to display these abilities, because many judges are drawn to the ‘wow’ factor.
    • The 2020-2021 season should allow you more flexibility than ever before; the NSDA’s ‘approved website list’ has been taken down. This means that just about any published piece of material is fair game for interpretation. Reimagine what’s possible!
  • QUESTION #4: ARE YOU OPTIMIZING THE MEDIUM?
    • I worked with a fantastic interper who awed his audience by scripting in a segment where he walked directly up to the judges and treated them like ‘characters’ in his piece. When he could no longer do this in person, he adapted his approach to the digital world--he got up uncomfortably close to the camera for that scene.
    • The champion of several HI national-level competitions has adapted their piece for cyberspace by weaving in and out of frame and playing with perspective. The 2020 NSDA National DUO champions make exceptional use of the camera frame when transitioning between scenes. It’s remarkable. We’re in a renaissance of Speech and Debate interp creativity.
  • I hope these strategies have helped move the gears of innovation. Good luck wowing your judges and staying true to your message!
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