Excelling In Duo: An Advanced Guide

With a great partner, a well-suited piece and some dedicated rehearsing, Duo Interpretation can be one of the most rewarding events in speech competition. It is also one of the most challenging.

Rules differ slightly by district, but in most states, Duo rules require two competitors to stand next to each other, face the audience, and perform a 10-minute piece without touching each other or looking at each other. Competitors can refer to a script held in a (usually black, 10-inch) binder.

Here are some of the guidelines you should consider when preparing for competition in Duo:

1. Find out what the rules are in your district, and make sure you find out whether they’re the same if you’re participating in a national qualifying tournament. This is important because it will determine how many characters you can have in your piece, how you and your partner can use the space around you, whether you hold binders, et cetera. Look at the ballots your judges will be using to evaluate you. Ask your coach and search on your league’s web site to find as much information as possible about what the rules are for your particular district and use them to improve your interpretation.

2. Practice in front of a mirror. This is a great way to watch your partner and find out how he or she is interpreting the character, as well as to make sure your facial expressions are coming across the way you want them to. Try to make sure that you are holding your binders at similar heights (It will look strange if one person is holding the binder right under her chin while the other is holding it at waist level) and that you are maintaining a balance between looking at your script and looking up.

3. Pick a focal point. In most forms of Duo, you are not allowed to look at your partner. This does not mean that you should let your eyes wander around the room – or worse, that you should stare directly at your judge when you are supposed to be having a dialogue with your partner’s character. You must pick a focal point and pretend that it is the other person’s face. Most importantly, you have to stick to that focal point. In most cases, competitors stare straight ahead, which works perfectly. If that doesn't work for you, it means you need to find something to return your gaze to, such as a corner of a desk or a photograph in the room. This is crucial in Duo. Another important thing to remember is that your focal point should match up with your partner’s. This means you should both be staring straight ahead – or that if you are looking slightly toward the ground, your partner should be looking up slightly. The best way to figure out whether you are doing this correctly is by videotaping a rehearsal and watching where your eyes are focusing. If it looks weird to you, it will look weird to your audience.

4. Don’t fight for the spotlight. This isn’t about one person’s performance over the other. If your teammate’s role is the dominant one in the story, or vice versa, you need to work together to make sure that you’re illustrating the author’s intent and expressing your interpretation with grace. For every Abbott, there is a Costello, for every Lucy, an Ethel. Figure out which person should be in the forefront during each moment in the script.

5. Your page turns should match. This is an often overlooked detail, but it looks great when it is done correctly, and some judges actually count off points if you don’t do it. You should try to turn your pages at the same time, at the same speed and with the same intensity. Some people go so far as to match the page turns with the mood of the piece – slow turns for sad, slow-paced pieces and quick turns for dramatic scenes with a lot of yelling – but it is not necessary. You should also make sure that you and your partner have the same copy of the piece. Nothing is more annoying than watching one person turn pages after every three lines, while the other person only turns the page once.

6. Come up with some original pantomimed blocking. Performing mimed actions that aren’t necessarily written into a piece can be a powerful tool because it shows the audience your originality. When someone mimes putting on lipstick, slapping the other character, drinking from a glass, or pulling out a handkerchief and drying tears, it can be a nice way to add some visual interest to what may be an otherwise slow piece.

7. Don’t forget the basics. Facial expressions, articulation, pronunciation, volume and characterization are important in all speech events. Be true to the character and the script. A lot of people think yelling is always the answer in Duo. It can be powerful to yell during a dramatic scene, but often, a soft, focused tone can be just as breathtaking for the audience. Think about the movie “Silence of the Lambs.” Some of the creepiest, most intense moments are those during which a character is practically whispering.

8. Choose the right partner. This is the foundation of any partner event. If your partner doesn’t like to practice, that could be a problem unless you thrive on the thrill of uncertainty. Practice is essential in Duo because so much of its success depends on anticipating your partner's actions.

9. Try to match your clothes. This doesn’t mean that you should try to wear matching suits. It doesn’t mean that you must coordinate the pattern of your tie with the color of your partner’s shirt. It means that if you are wearing a three-piece suit with a silk tie and your partner is wearing a dress shirt two sizes too big with a pair of wrinkled khakis, it’s going to look odd, and that will distract your audience from your performance. Some teams do color-coordinate their outfits for competition, and while that is not required, you definitely both need to look polished and professional.

10. For every action, there must be a reaction. Never assume that your audience is watching your partner because he or she is the one speaking. When you have a conversation with someone, you react with your face, your breathing, your posture and your gestures. The same is true in Duo. This is also very important when you coordinate blocking with your partner. Let’s say your partner’s character is supposed to slap your character. When your partner’s arm moves, your head should turn as if you have actually been slapped. In addition, don’t look down at your script every time you are not speaking. Engage in your performance and you will have your audience wanting more.