Flash Message

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I'm back home from the AFA-NIET District 4 Qualifying Tournament. The tournament (much like the previous four tournaments) was supremely draining and ultimately, mostly frustrating. I did take a second (tied for first, broken on judges' preference in favor of the other girl) with my Program of Oral Interpretation at the third tournament I attended, but my other pieces (Persuasion and a Prose piece) have had no placement-level success, nor has the POI had any further placement-level successes.

That would be why they've been mostly frustrating. Now, in fairness, I'm proud of a few things. After my first round with my Prose, one of the judges pulled me aside and told me it "was an excellent piece". (I found out later that he ranked me first in my round.) I also did my best performance of my Persuasion ever , my first round - no stumbles or memory lapses, and more refined gestures and movements - garnering me a first and a third place in that particular round.

The frustration stems from more than just a lack of placement. With my Persuasion, for example, I'm aware that I shouldn't have placed. My second and third rounds had fatal stumbles that knocked me into really low ranks, and fairly so. My POI and Prose - well, I can't comment on them as much. I enjoy performing them, I felt I performed them well, every time, and I can't say I necessarily agree with every comment and ranking I received on either. The bigger part of my frustrations, though, relate to some of the idiosyncratic expectations of performers.

For example, oral interpretation events (Program Oral Interpretation, Prose, Poetry, Dramatic Interpretation, Dramatic Duo) are expected to be performed with a script. The script is to be a 5.5" x 8" black binder, filled with the corresponding sheet protectors containing the script taped to sheets of heavy black card stock. The ten-minute script is to be paginated, breaks falling when there is a new piece (common in Poetry and Program Oral Interpretation) or there is a shift in tone or idea in the piece (Prose, Dramatic Interpretation and Dramatic Duo.) The script, usually referred to as the black book, has expectations attached other than just presence and physical attributes. It is expected that it is lifted, looked at, opened, handled and closed a certain way, and also that pages are turned in a certain way, with exacting timing. Now, the really odd thing is this: you're supposed to be performing from a script, right?

Well, not exactly. You're supposed to have the book. You're supposed to handle the book. But as far as acting goes, you're supposed to basically pretend the book doesn't exist. And because the fact remains that there is a book in your (usually left) hand, you're largely supposed to act like that hand doesn't exist. While you're interpreting the text, in spite of the fact that the words are right in front of you in the book, you're not supposed to read them. The entire thing is to be done from memory. But of course, you have to have the book, and handle it just so. Because that, of course, makes sense.

"Is it just the oral interpretation events that are this idiosyncratic?"

So glad you asked. The answer is an unequivocal no. Unknown to me until after my piece was written and memorized, there is an exacting structure expected of Persuasion pieces. The Formula goes like this:

  • Anecdote, story or quote
  • Thesis statement (large problem), preferably with one source-cited shock statistic
  • Preview of main points, including the words "problems", "causes" and "solutions", in that order
  • Problems
  • Preview of two or three sub-problems arising from the thesis
  • Problem one, with source-cited statistic or example
  • Problem two, with source-cited statistic or example
  • Problem three, with source-cited statistic or example (optional)
  • Causes
  • Preview of two or three causes for the thesis and sub-problems
  • Cause one, with source-cited statistic or example
  • Cause two, with source-cited statistic or example
  • Cause three, with source-cited statistic or example (optional)
  • Solutions
  • Preview of two or three solutions to the thesis problem, specifically addressing the causes
  • Solution one, with source-cited statistic or example (typically governmental)
  • Solution two, with source-cited statistic or example (typically private-sector business or community-level (this is the most optional and frequently skipped))
  • Solution three, with source-cited statistic or example (typically personal)
  • Conclusion
  • "Today we have looked at [thesis] by first examining the problems [arising from | surrounding | related to] it; second, studying the causes of [thesis]; and finally, deriving some rational solutions on the [governmental | private sector | personal] levels, in order to ultimately [put an end to | alleviate | improve upon] [thesis]."
  • Parting anecdote or fuzzy statistic
  • One sentence call-to-action
  • Now, I know you'll say, "Wow, that's a fantastic outline for a persuasive speech!" And the truth is, it is. The outline above is a fantastic place to start. But it's not the only format for a persuasive speech. It's not necessarily the best format for a persuasive speech. There are problems in this world that deserve our attention that cannot be shoved into a problem-cause-solution can. Even the problems that can be manipulated into that formula shouldn't be, every time. Especially when someone - your judges, fellow competitors, or whoever your audience happens to be - has to sit through potentially dozens of these speeches in a single day. By the end of the day, I'm praying for someone to break out of the problem-cause-solution canned speech (other than myself). I occasionally get a judge that seems thankful for it, too, and wind up with a first (in the case of my first round this weekend) or a second (last weekend, in spite of major memory issues), along with a comment about being engaging, natural and sensitive to the topic.

    More often, I wind up with frustrating comments that ask me things like where my second problem was, or why I chose an inverted structure (problem-impact-solution, which is similar to cause-problem-solution if you're paying any attention at all to the content of my speech). I really don't want to think I have to insult a person's intelligence by reading them the outline for my speech, rather than delivering the finished product.

    After the format, you get the brilliant expectations relating to hand gestures and movements. I could give you a pictorial diagram of the acceptable gestures and a movement diagram that looked like it came directly from Arthur Murray himself, if you wanted it. Starting the problem section? Move five steps right, stepping first with your right foot. Causes? Back to the beginning position, starting with the left foot. Solutions? Five steps left, starting with the left foot. Then we're back to the starting position, starting with the right foot, for the conclusion.

    A translation: because the speech-can we've created isn't clear enough, I'm going to further treat you like a moron by delineating my points with movement to another spot, as if I could not possibly know what to say next without inhaling the divine wisdom in the air at a spot five steps to my right.

    On top of all of this, the thing that is the most blatantly offensive about the activity is the dress code. You see, it has been determined that anyone who has anything worth saying can afford a nice suit. Therefore, all speakers are expected to wear them - suits, that is. That includes the speaker delivering a speech on the plight of the poor, who certainly have problems, but have nothing interesting to say on the topic as they're too poor to afford a nice suit. More universally, that includes someone giving a speech on a broad topic that begs persuasion of a wide cross-section of social strata, in which some of the audience members may find someone wearing a suit that costs as much as a month of groceries for them, how shall we say, a bit too far removed from the problem to be persuasive?

    I find the attitude that the clothes make or break the content of the speech vastly offensive. I feel this desperate need to go to a competition next year in sweatpants, and start off by saying:

    "I stand here before you, today, in sweatpants and my favorite pair of orange Reeboks, because you don't give a shit about my message. And that has to change."

    I mean, the events I could see doing this speech in do allow for visual aids.


    In other news, I got my first ASCII art spam yesterday. All hail the never-ending creative well of people desperately trying to evade my spam filters so as to effectively sell me penis-enlargement creams.

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    Quote of the Day: from Hot Sauce and Duct Tape on March 15, 2005 7:28 PM

    All hail the never-ending creative well of people desperately trying to evade my spam filters so as to effectively sell me penis-enlargement creams. ? Erika Read More


    while i can understand your frustration i also think that there are reasons for how they have it setup however odd it may seem. BTW it sounds to me like they were insulting your intelligence rather then asking you to insult theirs...since obviously walking 5 steps in either/both directions would totally screw you over. If they wanted to make sure you paid attention to your movements as well as speaking then they should just have you balance on a unicycle!! I have never heard of this group and what you describe sounds like a very masochistic day at its best.

    First, congratulations on your placement.

    Secondly, what's wrong with penis enlargement cream? If you get the Steve Martin brand, it even comes in a box labeled "NOT PENIS CREAM" to protect your privacy.

    hey i fixed the name typo on my website! :P

    congrats on taking 2nd :)

    If I had to perform in such a blatantly artificial form - and perform it would be; there's no room for creativity within The Formula - I think my main visual aid would be pretending to commit seppuku onstage, covering myself with vomited fake blood, and generally suffering a horrible, painful death - making sure that my script-book was carefully in-hand and unblemished the entire time.

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    This page contains a single entry by Erica published on March 13, 2005 1:00 PM.

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