Declamation, NOT Impersonation

Though Declamation is not a widely practiced event, and rules are thus short and often general, there are a few regulations that are explicit. The National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) states that pieces should be “conveyed credibly and convincingly as if the words were the speaker’s own. This event is an interpretation, not an impersonation.” Plain, simple, and direct. Declamation is not to be an impersonation. While that statement could be taken and left there, there is some subtext to that statement that merit’s a gander. Why precisely should a speaker not imitate, and can some tips and tactics be gained from the original speaker?

To begin, imitation is never to be attempted. Whether it is a mild homage to the original speaker’s brilliance or flat-out impersonation, imitating the original speaker earns a loss of points or disqualification. If the totality of this rational is insufficient think of the further consequences. Becoming known as an impersonator, cheat, or disqualified speaker would result in being under continual watch for a repeat offense. A speaker’s school’s reputation, as well as their own, is marred for future competition. Least not forget the embarrassment of being labeled inept.

Aside from the legal action officials can take against speakers, there are also personal reasons to not imitate. Forensics is meant to be not only fun, but a challenge. Impersonation has its merits in certain entertainment venues. However, in Forensics it is limiting. Impersonation for an act, or even in Original Comedy, is still fresh because the material is new. In Declamation a speaker is offering nothing interesting because they are performing something exactly as it was before. There is no growth.

There is also the realization that impersonation is an attempt to capture the essence of what made that previous speaker memorable. There are certain speeches or characteristics of individuals that imprint themselves upon an audience. Fantastic speakers have a style. Winston Churchill is different from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as is Martin Luther King, Jr. unique from Betty Friedan. A Declamation speaker who attempts to impersonate another’s speaking traits can only succumb to two fates (ignoring elimination/points reduction as that has already been covered):

1. Are left being unoriginal. This severely reduces their opportunity to re-invent a speech, make it their own, and present it in a manner more meaningful to them which will also enhance their speaking abilities and growth.

2.Endless comparisons will be made between this speech and the original, to the point that an audience will not be able to enjoy the current performance they are viewing. Further, an imitation is hardly better than the original; a speaker will always be a poor copy. Or worse, a comical failure of impersonation.

Ultimately, audiences do not need or want to see a commencement speech originally given by Christopher Walken be mutilated by an impersonator’s attempt. Why watch an imitation when the real version can most likely be found through research?

Although, there is some good to be had from watching and interpreting the delivery style of a speech’s originator. By no means does this imply to steal personal ticks or the delivery of a speaker. However, if a video of the speech can be found (given by anyone, not only the original speaker), it is not a terrible idea to view it after doing analysis and interpretation work of a speech. Have an idea of how to personally deliver the speech. Find the speech’s significance, think of levels and variations, and mark-up the script for how it could be given from a personal perspective. Then it could be an educational maneuver to view another’s presentation of the speech. A speaker could become enlightened to a better cutting. Levels never imagined could be discovered. Take notes of shocking revelations which were learned, and integrate those into a performance. This could best be described as extracting some of the essence of that previous speech, mingling it with one’s own, and fully owning the material. It is possible to learn from others. Everyday people encounter new experiences and individuals that help evolve who we are. But we are not an imitation because we incorporate it into our personalities. Do not become that other speaker. If they raised their voices for a certain line, that does not mean this Declamation should too. Rather, analyze what they did, learn from that to make improvements, and ask how one would personally present that moment.

To conclude, it is for these reasons that impersonation is damaging to a Declamation. It confines a speaker, bores an audience, and could have harsh consequences. A speaker can learn from those who spoke previously--with the proviso that they NEVER impersonate or steal, but rather interpret to make it their own. A speaker who embellishes their own ability and makes a piece theirs will possess more control and prowess than someone lacking a voice. Besides, who is to judge if that original speaker’s speech is really that perfect? An original re-imagining could be performed better than the original.