Being Able to Research --> Being Unique!

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It has been suggested that after I was done lamenting the use of sappy pieces in speech that I try to stop Notebook-esque and unoriginal pieces from being performed in the first place. Okay, how do I do that? I cannot, and refuse, to list pieces that are acceptable. That's limiting. I do not know everything that is out there. The truth is, I can only provide advice on how to select a super-cool piece. Again, I am not going to claim I know all. Because I don't. But I can tell you methods that worked for me.

1. Read! Simple enough yet so few do. The more you expose yourself to new works, the more possibilities and ideas you have available for use. Caution, you might read and love Harry Potter (or Twilight, ick) but so does a large percent of the population. They might not even have read it but are familiar with the story. Try to read books/plays that have become forgotten or which are popular in the underground. This leads you to literature that might be good (popular for a reason) and is "original" because it's unknown.

2. Avoid stories with the typical, no variation Crying Plot. Speak is like A Child Called It and so on and so forth. Not to discredit their merit. I was moved while reading A Child Called It. But so is everyone else. Who wouldn't be by child abuse? The point is, books/plays that deal with "common" dramatic issues with little variation (you've seen/heard this story before) should be avoided. Or if the story/cut you plan to use is only designed for tears. This is 8-10 minutes of depression. If you get a sad story and perform it decently, people will be sad. Great. Easy points. Challenge yourself and your audience. If you find a story with ups and downs and is unique in how it tells sorrow, go for it. But if it's the same tired tale and as predictable as any chick flick, run! Standing out will get you remembered.

3. Try new genres. Why does every Prose or Poetry performer feel they have to do drama? Or why does every DI performer die in their selection? Why is comedy, or even horror, rarely seen? If done properly, and with a good cutting that has dramatic moments, these genres and others can be very effective. Why? Because you'll most likely be the only Prose Reader who had their judge crying from both tears of joy and sadness. It is harder to find a piece outside drama that can compete with the cancer story, but if it's profound your different piece can win.

4. Ask around. You can only research so much. Ask friends, teachers, coaches, etc. what they enjoy to read. Make sure you are asking people who share tastes with you though. You might borrow and fall in love with a play that you would have never heard of. This also goes for checking old speech pieces filed away. If someone chose it, it must have had some merit all those years ago. You might find a keeper that speaks to you (if you do, read the source material and make your own, personalized cutting!).

5. Go to summer speech camp. You will have the resources of a college speech team in your hands! You have a higher chance of finding a sophisticated, unique, slightly-odd-in-a-good-way piece. If you are unable to go to camp, check out forensic tournament results on-line and research the pieces that won or have interesting titles.

6. Google search all forms of search topics for finding a piece or for "best short stories" or "best novels." Expand your reading list. This is a generic look and might bring up popular results most of the time, but you could stumble across something special. Just depends on how much sleuthing you choose to do.

Basically, this comes down to research and self-discretion. Being able to research and having a plethora of pieces at your disposal tends to keep people from choosing a piece they expect to win because of the plot. Start looking early so you do not get stuck doing a typical piece even you know is boring. The more you know about what is out there, the more power you have to utilize all that surrounds you...which gives you an edge in the round.

From what I've heard, this is really good advice. I didn't do speech, but I have a friend who competed in states several years running. Even in college he used to perform his high school pieces because they were so hilarious -- really zany, obscure plays that he would interpret in the most unexpected (and occasionally inappropriate) ways. I'd never heard of any of the writers or stories he used, and that's doubtlessly part of what made him seem so original and interesting.

No doubt. Everyone should be doing obscure pieces just for the surprise, this is NEW, factor. But anyone who can do comedy and who has the personality and confidence to pull off zany MUST do zany pieces. It should be a rule.

And being inappropriate in a not-going-to-be-marked-down way is perfect! Obviously there are boundaries, but like most things, boundaries can be tested slightly.

I see what you are saying. As Speech is a performing art, originality is critical. Be Original! Having fresh material and an original take on that fresh material will put you leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

This point is a key piece of advice for new speech competitors starting out. It's easy to fall down been-there pieces.

On a side note, zany is an amazing and underused word.

true, zany is underused...so is poppycock. we should start a revolution.

Can someone help me with this? I never went to a speech camp and in all honesty, didn't really see the point of it. You go in the summer and nationals are still almost a year away. Anything you work on then is going to be overused or beaten to death by the time quals roll around. Im not making a bold statement; im simply explaining my own logic but I could be completely wrong...penny for your thoughts?

Like anything, it all comes down to what works for you. It sounds like you come from a school with a strong program. I came from a school with enthusiastic coaches who did their best with what they had. Only one coach, who we got my senior year, had any previous speech experience--I'm fairly sure about. So my resources were limited. Going to a speech camp offered the training and advice I needed to advance myself. My coaches could only offer so much, and I could only train myself to a point. I leanred a lot about selecting pieces, making cuttings, how to analyze, performance, and various other things. I wasn't getting this stuff from my team, and as I did mostly tech for the theatre, I wasn't learning about acting from that venue yet.

And even though you get some pieces from camp a year before Nationals/State, you do not, and should not, use those pieces for the entire year. You should be upgrading yourself and your arsenal during the season so you stay fresh and find the best pieces for you. Camp just is a method to find initial pieces to start with. Camp also is a way to get special attention and advice on your skills. Season training might not offer you the same indepth rehearsal time that gets you to better yourself in all aspects of the event, not just the performance.

Plus, it's amazing fun!

A Poppycock Revolution!

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