DI, HI, DUO: How to Be the Houdini of "Props"

Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, and Duo are curious events.  You are expected to make a cutting of a play/novel/short story/etc, analyze and interpret the work, and then perform the piece with a list of stipulations.  No set.  No costumes.  No props.  Although understandable, these can be demanding rules.  Set and costume are truly unnecessary in Forensics given how competitions are organized (carting around stage pieces for a classroom?).  Props are also not needed because of the minimalistic nature of Speech.  However, because pieces are derived from material that assumes props will be used, or imagined in the mind as one reads, you might have to interpret a prop.  No problem!  You're a forensicator.  

As with most anything, practice is what will determine your success of propless prop handling.  Never assume for one second that because you have interacted with an item all your life that you can imagine exactly how to hold it, manipulate it, and operate it.  In life you use your motor skills to process a tangible item.  Propless props leave you literally with nothing but the atoms in the air.  Also, because we use an item everyday we train our body to work with it and rarely have to think.  Every time you brush your teeth do you mentally talk yourself through the steps?  

Didn't think so.

When you begin practicing a piece that requires a "prop" why not use one?  If your character has to set the time on a watch, go find yourself a watch!  Someone needs to open a lock on a door?  Grab a key and the door to match.  It is easiest to learn a "prop" when that is all you are focusing on--so do not attempt to learn a "prop" while performing the whole piece.  Take it slowly.  Begin with just handling/using the object.  Become conscious of how your hand holds the item.  Feel the weight.  Manipulate the item and look at how your body transforms itself.  As you operate the item memorize the motions, the feel, and effort that is needed to use whatever you hold.  Is using this item a simple procedure?  A wristwatch, for instance, cannot have the time set in five seconds (if you have to wind the knob!).  Your fingers have to pinch and, hopefully, grab that tiny appendage to rotate it slowly until the hands are aligned just so. Log all information into your mind: the item's physicality, operating procedures, how your body has to morph to accommodate.  Gradually, stop using the actual prop and start using the "prop."  Once you can go through whatever action is called for in the script with that item, incorporate what you learned into your performance.  Interact with your "prop" and react to it!      

It sounds ridiculous, but even the most menial tasks are suddenly challenging when you have to imagine them.  It will take time to be able to perform a propless prop feat realistically while being clear enough for an audience to know precisely what you are doing.  The only way to become a Forensics Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, and Duo "props" master is to practice and be excruciatingly detailed.  Yet, this level of preparation will translate to inner confidence and a clean performance. 

It could be worse.  You could be attempting to interact with a duo partner without physically interacting.  At least a "prop" is inanimate and not forever changing its form!