Choosing a Duo Piece

A great Duo/Duet piece can be attributed to a variety of factors. Good acting, partner chemistry, creative blocking, and so on. But aside from the initial process of paring up with a good partner, the other cornerstone for a great performance rests in selecting the right piece. The use of the proper piece can be the edge a Duo needs in a round to win. Yet, choosing a piece is more than performing something that has done well before. A partnership needs to think of a variety of factors when selecting a piece.

The first concept to remember is that selecting a piece is a highly personal choice. Partners may ask for advice and suggestions on what are quality pieces. However, blindly choosing a piece simply because it has performed well in the past is an awful decision. What works well for one Duo might not work for another. Further, selecting a piece because someone says to perform it, without any further consideration by the Duo, is a faulty decision as well. A piece should only be selected to be performed if a Duo feels it is the best possible piece for THEM to perform. It might be the most obscure source material, but if it adheres to what would work for a Duo then obscurity does not matter.

Second, finding a piece that one is passionate for is one of the main factors to piece selection. The more a person loves a text, then the more apt they are to invest themselves and time into developing the performance. No one will labor over material for which they feel little. Also, love for a piece cannot be one-sided. Both of the members of a Duo must feel strongly for a piece. Otherwise, the enthusiasm displayed for rehearsal and even during a round could become uneven and noticeable. Further, resentment within the Duo might occur if one partner feels slighted for agreeing to do a piece they truly lack a connection towards. With thousands upon thousands of pieces available for a performance, finding one that both partners love should not be taxing.

A third element to consider is to select a piece that utilizes both partners’ skills. If a piece being considered allows for more range and more memorable moments for one partner, then one in the Duo is getting cheated. A Duo is not a showcase for one person while the other plays the sidekick. If this is the case, perhaps the one showboating should be performing in either Humorous or Dramatic Interpretation. Also, look for pieces that allows for both to use abilities that can push a piece into first. For instance, if one partner is great at singing try to use a piece where singing for a character happens. Or, if a person is great at performing slap-stick then search for a piece which allows for them to incorporate their talents. Not only will this allow for a more personalized touch to the piece, but it also offers a minor, natural showcase of a skill that could take a partnership to finals.

The fourth consideration is that of quality. Is the piece good? Taste is subjective, obviously. However, as a partnership reads the piece does it strike them as being good or is it mediocre? Perhaps even bad? Even if there is an amazing character within the piece, if the rest of the work is bad then the material is not worth performing. Look for writing that is strong. Avoid works that use shock and vulgarity to trick the audience into avoiding the fact that the dialogue is awful. Seek pieces that tell solid stories through memorable characters--a piece that develops both character and plot thoroughly. As it was stated earlier, taste is subjective. But, if a Duo firmly believes that their piece is good and worth presenting, then most likely their dedication and performance will bring out the good qualities they see so the audience sees them as well.

Yet another aspect of piece selections reduces to the basic question of “can this be cut to meet the requirements of Duo?” If the source material contains a duet scene then cutting is made easy. However, if a third character appears for a few lines, ask can those lines be cut or given to one in the duet? The question of can a strong scene be presented (that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end with build) after cutting must be answered. Thinking of line distribution after cutting is also crucial; will both actors get an equal amount of lines? And at the most rudimentary level, can this piece be cut to fit time without losing any of its impact? If it cannot be done, or if a Duo cannot devise how it can be done, then moving on to another piece is inevitable.

Sixth, a Duo has to decide if they are going to perform a dramatic piece or a humorous one (unless the genres are split in rare circumstances). This will be a major decision for a Duo. Generally, dramas are considered to be more sophisticated than comedy, and it is hard to edge out a well-done cancer drama with a silly dinner date scene. However, doing a drama does not guarantee a win. Dramas can become dull and seen as a blatant move to demonstrate how serious of an actor one is. Great comedies also have the edge of using humor to discuss serious issues, and humor tends to stick with people more so than a generic drama. However, comedies that offer a truly spectacular dramatic and emotional moment written well are sometimes hard to locate. Ultimately, both present pros and cons that need to be weighed. The best advice is to follow what works best for the Duo and to contemplate using a piece that has both elements of drama and comedy to offer a broader range.

Finally, the seventh and final major thing to question is how universal is the piece? NEVER select a piece because it is expected to be a crowd pleaser, nor if it is only being used to induce tears and judge sympathy for a win. That is low, uninspired, and safe. Instead, choose a piece that can challenge an audience, which a partnership loves, and yet is still capable of allowing an audience to connect. Even pieces with a-typical plots and characters can still be relatable as long as the core of the piece is common to everyone. A piece with universal appeal simply means that there is still something human and understandable to be found amid even the most non-human/bizarre elements.

Selecting a piece should be more than just looking at a list of previous winners and randomly selecting a piece because the title looks cool. It needs to be more. Only the most skilled of actors can perform a work they only mildly like well, and even then they will not have the same heart as a Duo which adores their piece. Using the above seven methods in piece selection will be a positive step towards choosing a work that can open the possibility of excellence and becoming a memorable Duo.