Approaching 'untouchable' pieces

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A student who performed "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" at the 2007 Nationals earned second place, which has prompted some competitors to put the piece on a pedestal. Some commentors on the Forensics Online forums say the piece is now “untouchable,” a statement which, while dramatic, has at least some truth to it.

Years ago, a very talented Duo team performed “Astro 69” in my district and won trophies for it at nearly every tournament. They had flawless blocking, subtly matched suits, perfect timing and an almost visible connection as a team. It was the perfect Duo. Everyone solemnly paid tribute to their talent by resting the piece, but even when it returned to rounds a few years later, we still remembered the students who had done it “first." No one ever came close to them.

Each team that performed the piece, though, shared the same humiliating flaw: attempted imitation. They copied the winning team’s cutting, used the same teaser point for an intro, recreated the blocking and used very similar characterization.

And most of them bombed.

Had they taken the time to read through the piece and come up with some new blocking, they might have fared better. The key to success in performing a piece that others have performed well is to be creative.

You can’t expect to score with judges who have seen the same piece performed in the exact same way. If your piece is as long and as well-known as Harry Potter, you can certainly come up with a different cutting and include some of the great things that other performers left out. If your cutting is non-negotiable (for example, if the piece is short to begin with), think about different ways to showcase your character’s personality. Read every line and think about how that person would actually say it, or try using a bold accent to set your performance apart from its predecessors. Relax and stick to your unique interpretation of your script.

At the end of the day, you want to feel proud of your performance, so don’t slack off and try to pass another team’s brilliance off as your own. Besides, your ability to interpret and redefine a piece is part of what makes speech so much fun! Though there are admittedly some overdone scripts that really just need a few years’ rest, one stellar performance shouldn’t be a reason to steer clear of a well-written piece.

You make a great point. I dont see why anyone would want to copy someone elses piece. There are so many great options out there - why not pave your own path?

I totally agree with this. Personally, if I knew someone had already used a piece and launched it to popularity and fantastic success I would not use that piece. I would avoid it like the plague. No matter how different and brilliant your version is, it will always be compared to that original piece. It is always "the other version." And no one wants "the other" ever. They crave the original. Plus, as you said it is capitolizing on previous success. Make your own.

Thanks for the feedback, y'all!

I agree. Last year I did a clipping from Hannibal and some of the judges expected me to be exactly like Anthony Hopkins. I am not a 65 year old man with years of acting experience and I accepted the fact early on that I could not be exactly like him. In order to make the judges happy, I took elements from my interpretation of the character, Brian Cox's interpretation, Gaspard Ulleil's interpretation and Mads Milkksen's interpretation and the judges loved it.

There was an excellent poetry than won Nationals in or around 2008-09. The poem was "Beethoven" by Shane Koyczan. I chose to take that poem and incorporate it into my poetry piece because it fit the program and message I was trying to get across. I didn't try to emulate the performance by any means (in fact I've never seen it), and it all seemed to work out for me. Granted, that's a little different than taking an HI piece that has acquired near-legendary status (for me, it will always be "The Witches"), because the way you view the piece is naturally tainted by the power of the performance. There's nothing wrong in doing something that's been done before, but it may not fit everyone's perception of what the piece SHOULD be, and that's a shame.

I know earlier in this thread I said that it was a bad idea to use a popular, "legendary" piece. However, UCMChris brings up an interesting exception to "the rule."

If a piece is incorporated into a larger piece, it might stand a chance because it is now something different. Other exceptions might include: doing a piece that was never that well known in YOUR area OR doing a successful piece after enough time has passed.

It seems like its own unique, little challenge though.

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