Often the question of what makes a great Declamation piece arises. People tend to search for something that has either performed well in the past, deals with a popular issue currently in society, or one that will be generally well-received by a typical audience. Notice how the previous criteria is all about the audience? Although you should factor audience reception into your piece selection, the very first question you should be asking is if it is something YOU love. Afterall, you are the one who will be working on and performing this Declamation for months, not the audience. Also, there is more to choosing a piece than questioning if the group you will be presenting it to will like it. The following five questions are ones you should be asking when selecting a speech.
- Do you love it? If you are reading/watching a speech and the thought "hmm, this is okay...not great, but decent...a crowd pleaser" ever enters your mind, nix the speech. You clearly have no passion for the speech; it does not speak to your being. How can you expect to breathe life into words that hold little meaning for you? It is fake, pointless, and unfulfilling for you as a performer. Much of what makes a fabulous Declamation is the showmanship, and there is little to show when you are lukewarm towards a speech.
- Does the speech have a strong message and solid support? There is nothing worse than reading or watching anything that may have good writing or great performances when the rest of the work cannot support the components. Examples: a movie may have excellent acting, but sometimes strong acting cannot save a poorly written script; or you can read a novel with clever writing, but if the plot is flawed it ruins the whole book. The same principle applies to a Declamation. You may be able to present a speech well, but if it has nothing to say and sketchy support you are lost. Not everything has to be spectacular, but the components do need to balance one another out so the final product is fantastic.
- Is there a natural build? You have found a piece you love, it has a bold message and good support, but does the speech present itself with a natural build? Better yet, is the speech all one tone? Look to the rhetoric, punctuation, and natural pacing to see if variations occur throughout the work. If none exist, it may present an issue with the presentation. Granted, your performance can solve problems related to build, but if a speech lacks a climax of sorts it will make your work more difficult in practice. Remember, a monotone speech is as boring and nap inducing.
- Is the speech within time or can it be cut? Sometimes it happens that you find a piece that meets all the above criteria but then you realize it is too short or far too long for your time restraints. There are a few solutions. If the piece is a hair short it may be possible to stretch out your performance through use of timing and pacing. You can also add a few sentences more into the introduction. If the piece is long you will have to ask yourself this: can it be cut? Most often any piece can be cut to fit your needs--rarely is every last line essential. Just ask yourself what is necessary and begin the hacking process. If it cannot be cut to still hold the zing of the full speech, however, the piece needs to be set aside.
- Is it universal? Now is when you ask if the piece can be applied to the audience. Is the speech too out there for most to relate to? Is the issue dealt with so irrelevant your audience will not care? Does the piece speak-down to your audience or insult them? Usually the main question here will be is the speech relevant and thus relatable to your audience. If the speech is not, you may have an issue winning the crowd.
On your quest for a Declamation, asking yourself these five, basic questions are a simple way to determine if a piece is a great piece. There is no reason to ask how a piece faired at previous tournaments. No need to ask how it ranked. Why do a piece that was crafted for another performer when you have the opportunity to locate a speech perfect for you?