Excelling in Dramatic Interpretation: An Advanced Guide

Whether you're performing a soliloquy or a seven-character scene, Dramatic Interpretation is an event for seriously talented competitors with a serious thirst for success.

(NOTE: Dramatic Interpretation is an event for which you must memorize a ten-minute script of a dramatic nature and perform it while adhering to speech and debate rules forbidding props and costumes.At some tournaments, D.I. can refer to both dramatic (D.I.) and humorous (H.I.) performances, but this guide refers only to dramatic performances.)

Here are some of the elements of a well-done D.I. performance:

The piece:
Choose an honest, unique, moving piece for Dramatic Interpretation. Different judges will have differing opinions about which pieces work and which don’t, but it ultimately comes down to whether you feel comfortable with your selection and whether you are able to express the themes well.
~ Stick to your strengths. If you can do multiple characters, do it. If you prefer the depth and solidity of a monologue, go classic. Again, it’s up to you.
~ Cut your piece well. Many of the best D.I. pieces are actually much larger plays trimmed down to fit the time limit. Even if you started with a ten-minute script, though, look through the lines for needless repetitions and dragging moments, then eliminate them.
~ If you have a severely hard time finding a piece you like, don’t give up. Talk to your coach, visit your local bookstore or ask fellow teammates if they have suggestions for you. Consider converting one of your favorite books, plays, short stories or movie scripts into a D.I. piece.

Depth of character (or characters):
~ Many competitors make the mistake of thinking that this is an easy event because all you have to do is “be sad.” But in D.I., if you do not develop your characters’ emotions and mannerisms, your piece will fall flat. It is not merely about recitation; you have to invest time and energy into character development.
~ Think hard about what you would do if you were in your character’s shoes. Read every line in the piece and carefully evaluate what each phrase means for your character. If your family member was diagnosed with an incurable disease, or you were plagued by predictions of people’s deaths, or you had just buried a beating heart under your floorboards and couldn’t get the victim’s eye out of your mind, then you would react to that. Don’t just say the lines. Feel them.
~ If you can do character pops, this can be a valuable tool in D.I. However, keep in mind that this is not necessary. How the number of characters in your piece reflects your score is a matter of judge preference. Some judges might think you aren’t doing as much as other competitors if you don't have multiple characters, while others might think that you have too many characters, and it clutters the piece and muddles the message. A well-done monologue can be just as moving.

Vocal Interpretation:
~ If you can rock a realistic southern drawl or a beautiful South African accent, go for it. It never hurts to use an accent in D.I. – just don’t forget to match it to your character.
~Maintain a loud enough volume all the way through the piece. Make sure you speak up enough so that your judge and your audience can hear you.
~ Many dramatic scripts require yelling. It is important to rest your voice properly between rounds so that you do not overexert yourself and risk losing your voice. In addition, you should practice your piece without yelling, just so that you are prepared in case you do lose your voice. (It happens.) You may even discover that your piece works well without extreme volume.

Physical Elements:

~ Again, if you are able to use pops, you may do so, but your acting must also remain solid. Don’t lose sight of your characters.
~ In DI, crying is a subject of controversy. It can be awe-inspiring to watch a D.I.er cry, but in some areas, tears are considered a prop (seriously). You never know when your judge might think you're being too over-the-top. Use your judgment – you don’t want to come across as a pageant winner crying during her acceptance speech.
~ Facial expression is key. Be energetic and as natural as possible. Also, if you have bangs or hair that is going to be continually falling into your eyes, you need to fix that, because if the audience can’t see your eyebrows, it will mask your expressions.
~ In DI, don't run around. Physical comedy and erratic stage movements have their place, but not in a D.I. round. There is never a reason to move around excessively in this event.
~ Try to avoid habits. If you have a habit of running your fingers through your hair, twirling your hair or flipping it behind your shoulder, you should definitely pull it back. If you don't, your habits will show through and then it will be obvious it's you doing it, not the character.

Most importantly, practice, and have someone else watch you perform your piece and give you feedback. This will help you determine how your piece will come across to others and how well you are conveying the author's intent.