Once the breaks for final rounds are posted, where is it a majority of spectators flock? To the comedic performance rounds! Humorous Interpretation, Humorous Duet Acting, and Original Comedy (especially!) all seem to be the events of most interest. Why is that? People love to laugh. Okay, perhaps that was too easy of a question. What would be a better one is how do you get to be one of those beloved funny people.
This tutorial on Humorous Interpretation, HI, will help construct a solid foundation for the start of your HI adventure.
Picking a Piece
To make a fine wine the best grapes are chosen. Same goes for a speech piece. If you want to shine then everything begins with the selection of your piece. There are certain particulars an HI piece needs. For instance, when selecting a piece look for something that tells a complete story. A proper introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement are essential. Also, find a piece with interesting characters that undergo character development. As HI is supposed to be humorous, look for a piece that has humor that is universal, mixed, and constant/consistent. If all of the humor is crude, it gets old. Look for some smart material that might have “low” humor that is used effectively. You also want to be searching for something that can be easily cut. Something might be fabulous as a large work but is rubbish if cut down to the time limit. Find something compelling and interesting that you will be happy to work with for several months.
Making the Cut
Some basic guidelines to keep in mind while making a cut are:
*read the WHOLE work to know what you are dealing with and how it all fits together; you do not want to miss out on wonderful moments because you decided to not read the whole piece
*the piece you cut needs to be coherent, have the basic road map for story telling (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement)
*develop your characters; do not sacrifice your characters for a string of jokes
*use lines and changes in scenery/scenes to your advantage to determine where to cut; knowing what scenes there are and their size helps map out your piece and gives you an idea of what is essential
*keep the needed bits; a gag might be really funny, but if it means nothing to the whole then it is useless and might put you over time (you can always add later once you get your timing down!)
*the way you cut your script can help you either make something funnier or make the transitions easier to see (this helps your audience not get lost)
*cut characters that add nothing
*be creative and realize if you love a scene aside from this random conversation that means nothing to you, it is in your power to cut it and sacrificially burn it for the greater good of your piece
*keep all versions of your cuts and the original piece; you never know when you will want to make alterations to the cut you have!
You might want to look at this from an English/Theatre major’s viewpoint. First rule of any form of analysis is to read the whole work. Although you are doing a selection from the whole, your characters are part of a bigger piece. The plot is part of something larger. Things happened before your cutting that could have adjusted who they are at that time. Besides, knowing all you can about the plot, the nuances, the characters will help with your interpretation; and knowing is half the battle! Uncover the meaning of the piece—the theme. Why tell this tale? How does your cutting fit into the rest of the story? How is structure important? Are there any literary/dramatic elements being used by the writer and if so why? Look at the diction (language) of the piece. What are some key words and why use these words (this can help with vocal emphasis and interpretation). Is anything repeated? Why? Who are these characters, what do they want for themselves, what do they want from others, how would you describe them, how would other characters describe them, what relationships do these characters have, what are their socioeconomic status, educational level, are they played or the player, etc? Get to know these people and their world!
All HIs need an introduction. An introduction can be given at the start of the performance but it is more professional to deliver it after a teaser (a short segment of the piece used to hook the audience). An introduction needs to give necessary information, set the mood for the piece, give the author’s name, the title, and anything else needed. Prepare your introduction prior to the tournament, spend time writing it, and practice it! This is the time for you to be you, so having confidence and being comfortable is a must to leave a good impression.
After you have your analysis and interpretation done for each character, it is now the time for characterization. With HI you are taking on the roles of multiple people (usually), and because there is only one of you and many “others,” you need to be certain that each character you perform is different. Everyone is to be easily recognized, detailed, and unique. Think of posture, specific gestures and ticks, accents and tones, and above all remember your analysis! After spending so much time figuring out who that person is, let that guide you in developing that character. Use that knowledge to discover how they would deliver lines and how they speak to other characters. Bottom-line? If two of your characters are similar, and there is no reason for it given in the piece, then you will be deducted points. You are one person acting a scene. Own it!
Playing multiple characters requires transitions into the next character. Although there are exceptions where slow or botched transitions are used for comedic effect (and sparingly), mostly pops are to be smooth and quick. A skilled HIer will have practiced pops and devised methods to make them as fluid as possible. This often means blocking your pops from one character to the next. Knowing how to pop is vital. If you have no clue what you are popping to, then your pop will be sloppy and could leave you in the wrong position to take over as the next character. Great pops will happen in the blink of an eye and have little to no pause (not necessarily as in words; by pause I mean a second to regroup as YOU to think of what is happening next). Practice pops. They separate the novices from the varsity.
This relates back to characterization. Obviously every character needs their own voice. That’s a given. But certain constants are needed for all characters. You should always be heard and have good diction. If people cannot hear or understand you they will lose interest and all your work will be lost. When thinking of line delivery, keep in mind variation. Some characters might require monotone, but most have variety. Volume level changes, use of silence, tone, pitch, pace, etc…any dynamics will keep you interesting. And when people are interested they are listening to the piece and laughs will ensue! All vocals need to support the text, character, and situation. All vocals are to be determined prior to the performance. This is acting. Vocal blocking is needed for a solid performance. Know what you are going to do and know it well.
There is nothing for you to place your attention on EXCEPT the audience. I use audience for a reason. Giving your performance just to the judge is not only rude but creepy. People do not start at one person for eight plus minutes straight in typical conversation. We look away. We address others and get all involved. It is what we do. And so should you in your performance. There are others there and it is rude to ignore them. Besides, think of it as using your audience. Getting them to laugh and showing your comfort in addressing everyone helps display the hilarity of your performance and shows your confidence. Judges adore seeing this love of performance, and this might help with determining the higher rank between two somewhat equal performances.
Again, this goes back to characterization but all characters need to have their own gestures and facials. Not saying if one character smiles another cannot! That would just be silly. No, what I mean is that characters should have some particular quirks and ticks that are unique to them. Perhaps one is like The Joker and licks his lips frequently? It is impressive to have such detailed characters that the audience can instantly recognize a character by a tick. Quirks can be a facial expression or maybe a gesture. Aside from particulars, all characters need to have easily seen facials and gestures. Gestures and facials need to support the text and fit the character and situation. They also need to be blocked! This is acting. Knowing what you are going to do will save you from looking awkward and unrehearsed in a round. This also helps you stay in character.
These are a few items that need to be looked at if one wishes to succeed in HI. Of course, this is an introductory list of what to do to start HI. There is always more to learn and always more to capitalize on. But this basic how-to can help get you on the right path to success!
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