Tear Jerker Pieces

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How many of you have sat through a round where there was an over-the-top, guaranteed to make men weep, as sad as hurting puppies piece selection? You know the piece. This was clearly chosen because it told a tale of dying/surviving cancer, or rape, or involved devastating turmoil. The plot was almost formulaic aside from a slight twist--even if you saw it coming three minutes prior. Lets call this piece The Notebook Factor.

We have all seen this piece, perhaps have used it, or were tempted. I'll admit it. One year I had no idea what to use for one of my prose selections so I took a coach's selection of The Notebook Factor: "Sophie's Choice." And you know what? I resented doing what I vowed I would never do so I never performed as well as I could have. Sure, I broke and did well. But my heart wasn't in it and I felt like a fraud. A sell-out. But it was either that or have nothing (I did try looking for something better, but that was a complicated speech year...).

So I'm not just bashing but giving advice from my experience!

The truth is, those pieces do well for a basic reason. If performed well, and without melodrama, they are valid, soap opera-esque dramatic pieces. Drama is interesting. Drama is exciting. And drama on steroids dealing with hardships familiar to us can be juicy. We as people like the familiar and like to live out drama through others. So something as heightened as The Notebook Factor speaks to who were are as common people.

BUT, as a competitive performer, if you have any skill you can do much better than falling to The Notebook Factor. You have talents! Make use of them in an unique, unpredictable, ORIGINAL CONTENT piece! Drama must be there, but does it have to be the "I am dying, woe is me" variety? Believe me, doing a piece that is different, slightly odd, powerful, well-written, well-performed, and what you love will let you rank well.

I will not lie and say every judge will appreciate your daring effort. I didn't make it to Sectionals one year because a final round judge didn't like my piece (nothing but notes of praise for my performance. The only negative remark was that the piece was not for her...and all the other judges ranked me well enough, that if this particular judge had not given me a 6, I very well might have advanced!).

I will promise you this. You will be loved by your fellow speechies for being original and bold. And for not boring them with the easy, repetitive selection. People will remember you if you work at your piece and pour your soul in it. And you can say you truly won because you relied on you and your art, not some sappy piece.

I'm no Speech Expert, but from everything I've heard from Speech, what you write is very true and a very important consideration.

How about a blog entry providing advice on how to find these unique, original pieces you advocate. Now that would be very helpful!!


Thanks for sharing Lisa, great thoughts.

What was your most original-bold piece-performance? Do you think there's a point at which one could go too far with originality or there is no limit...

I'm going to say the cutting I did of "The Yellow Wallpaper" was my boldest move. True, it deals with mental illness, BUT few people have actually read it AND it talks about the issue in a way that is unusual. I like this piece b/c it falls into the horror genre (one of my addictions and a genre I rarely saw on the speech circuit) and allowed for me to be unsettling. It's also smart, symbolic, and very pro-feminism (hey, I'm all about equality).

I think as long as you keep in mind your piece needs to be liked by the general audience, you can rarely go to far. That said, trust your audience to be intelligent and want to discover new things by moving away from "normal" and safe. Obscurity is not a bad thing. I wouldn't recommend doing something so out there no one will like it but you--or doing weird pieces for the sake of being weird. There's a line and only personal comfort and judgment can guide you.

That was one of my biggest pet peeves with competing. And somehow, it seemed like the judges bought it everyone. My mom went through a serious illness during my year of high school and I never brought it up in speeches because I thought it was cheap and also, in a way, "used" her story for my own gain. That is pretty weak and I think that the competitors that use that tactic are fully aware of the advantage that they have.

What part of "The Yellow Wallpaper" did you use, the copy I have is 12 pages so I'd like to know what you cut and what advice you have for performing it.


The way I approached cutting "The Yellow Wallpaper" was to first ask myself what sort of story I wanted to tell. Whenever you have to do some bulk cutting, you have to know what the heart of the story. Everything you do to create your cutting needs to be true to that. For me, the easiest thing was to remove whole sections of the piece that were non-essential for telling the story. Get rid of the "fluff," the bits that are NOT needed to tell a coherent story.

Once you have a slimmer story to work with, think about what is essential to the story. What pieces not only help move the plot in a way that creates drama and climax and fun acting bits, but the pieces that help develop character. It's going to be hard, but you'll have to shave off things you might like a lot in order to keep those essential pieces in to tell the story.

In general, you probably will be adjusting your cutting throughout the season. You'll discover that parts you dismissed early really are needed, or that you need less drama for "boring" parts that help the flow of the performance.

DO NOT TRY TO ACT CRAZY. What does that even mean? What's crazy? Keep in mind that this story involves a very real, very scared woman. To others she might be acting insane, but to her everything was real and something to overcome. Once you start going over-the-top, you're just playing at looking mad. Also, she's a proper woman from a time period when there was more decorum. This woman would still attempt to keep-up appearances even if she was horrified. I also made it a point to take advantage of silences, pauses, and creating varying levels with my voice. I think people are frightened of silence, so adding that layer added a bit of creepiness.

I've attached a video of my performance so you can get a better idea of the cutting. Please be kind. I recorded this years after competing, with like 15 minutes of prep before recording. I swear, I used to do this piece better justice (used to get compliments and even placed at Regionals with this piece). So, I am sorry for what you might watch.

I loved this piece, and I hope that you fall in love with performing this piece too!


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