How to Cut an Interpretation Piece

Once a performer finds a Dramatic or Humorous Interpretation piece best suited for an individual’s abilities begins the cutting process. Being able to cut a great piece is a skill many might find elusive, but it need not be. Cutting follows the same fundamental “rules” across all events, so while DI and HI are dissimilar in some aspects, the same cutting techniques apply. (Although some specific tactics will be discussed.) By using the following practices while cutting, a superb piece is possible.

Find the Story

The initial step in creating a cutting is to decide what story it is the piece should tell. A cutting should have one main plot. Possibly a subplot can be added when it ties into the main cleverly and purposefully. (This should only be attempted by a strong piece cutter; it can effortlessly transform into an incoherent mess. Thus, it is usually best to tell one tale and avoid a subplot no matter how wonderful it ties into the main.) Finding the one story leads to a better organized cutting that the audience can easily follow. It also helps to ease the hardships of cutting because anything that is not pertinent to the main plot can be removed. It is undeniable--when a performer knows the story they wish to perform cutting is made vastly simpler.

Basic Plot Structure

After a story is decided upon, the competitor needs to devise a method to cut it to fit the 8-10 minutes time limit. Understanding the fundamentals of structure will aid. A piece should be cut to fill the following progressions:

Exposition

All the introductory information of the piece, such as a description of setting, characters, etc. Attempt to keep this part as short as possible so the other, more interesting, story elements can become the focus.

Conflict and Rising Action

The problem is introduced and the action that drives the plot forward transpires. This is the meat of the piece. All the tension and suspense are built here through little, mini builds and arches. This part should begin to develop the characters and get the audience attached to them so that the audience is invested.

Climax

The highest moment of conflict and tension--everything is unleashed. A great climax will be memorable, leave people shocked, or grab their attention the most. If the conflict and rising action was cut appropriately, then the climax will offer a massive payoff.

Falling Action

Issues begin to settle and a solution is sought. This is basically the calming portion between the climax and the end. Falling action still can be interesting though! Do not shortchange this section. A climax that leads immediately into the end leaves an audience feeling lost and like something was missing.

Dénouement

The resolution/conclusion. The story is wrapped up, a solution is found (either happy or sad or ambiguous), and a change in character should be seen for complete character development--unless the development was that the characters do not change.

If a story is told out-of-sequence using flashbacks or reverse scene order perhaps, create a cutting that best mimics the source material. If that is unable due to time, cut a piece that holds the spirit of the original while being pieced together to tell a coherent story which uses some of the source material’s structure.

Be Mindful of Characters

Whenever cutting a piece pay attention to characters. The narrator of the piece, and secondary characters to a degree, should go through some development. A change in their belief system, who they are, how they perceive others, or how others perceive them, etc. must occur. Otherwise, what is the point of the story? (Again, unless the theme of the piece is an absence of change.) Therefore, when cutting lines be mindful to maintain development.

Also, rid a piece of any unnecessary baggage. Any characters that serve no purpose in the piece’s vision are to be left out. Or, if a minor character who only offers a few lines of wisdom cannot be kept--due to time or a desire to not introduce another character into the plot--than try merging their lines with a secondary character who feel as if they might have spoken those words. Make secondary characters useful as well. They should help move the plot, go through slight developments (hopefully), and be more than a mere comedic effect. Ideally, a piece will use a secondary character as some sort of foil for the main narrator to act and change upon.

Cut With Popping in Mind

While cutting also pay attention to how this dialogue will work with popping. For example, a section of rapid popping could be intense or hilarious for a bit, but this eventually becomes tiresome not only for the audience but the performer. If the plot allows try to place parts of light popping to conserve energy and prevent becoming worn. Also, too much swift popping pulls the audience out of the piece over time as the popping becomes more noticeable than the story.

Dramatic Interpretation

When cutting a Dramatic Interpretation there are four main issues to be concerned with:

1. Be cautious to avoid being over dramatic. There is zero need to have every scene feel as if it is the climax. In fact, this creates a lackluster piece with limited range, suspense, or conflict. Create mini-builds leading to a climax of merit.

2. Remain mindful of energy. Using too much exposition that has little drive, variety, or tension breeds boredom. DI has enough serious weight to be further slowed down by a one note plot.

3. Do not shy from humor. Having a few lines of comedy within a DI helps to keep energy up, offers some entertainment, and provides a contrast to what might be a bleak piece. Having range and connecting with an audience is desirable--humor helps achieve this.

4. Often, a DI works best when rapid cutting/popping is kept to a minimum and reserved for emotional, stressful moments. This type of pace usually works well with a Dramatic Interpretation to create an atmosphere which better embraces the tone of the piece. Also, controlling pops for effect like this often results in a stronger response from the audience as the popping will further create a build/release.

Humorous Interpretation

As DI has a few individual cutting points to be aware of, so does Humorous Interpretation:

1. ALWAYS keep the plot in mind. Humor has the tendency to follow the wacky, kooky characters and jokes too much without incorporating enough plot and character development. Being funny is great, but being funny and capable of delivering a well-directed piece with a clear story is memorable.

2. While following the plot is vital, also is being able to set-up jokes through cutting. Not only do certain lines need to be maintained to retain their comedic effect, but sometimes brisk popping also establishes humor. A snappy exchange cutting to a moment of shocked silence can be hilarious. Use popping and cutting to a piece’s advantage.

A performer who invests in their cutting will be better rewarded with the final performance. It is to the competitor's and the audience's benefit that time and thought be poured into creating a cutting draft and updating it as the season continues based on new ideas, critiques, and general enrichment. Though there is much to contemplate, cutting a Dramatic or Humorous Interpretation is not impossible. The patience and effort is well-worth the potential high rank at the end of the round.