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Event Overviews and Resources 9: Dramatic Interpretation (Feat. DI Tips from Bailey Patterson)

Welcome to A Long Winter's Clap: 12 Days of Speech and Debate Event Overviews and Resources. This episode is dedicated to Dramatic Interpretation, and we are featuring some excellent tips from Kelly Walsh Speech and Debate alum and actor extraordinaire, Bailey Patterson.


Dramatic Interpretation is an individual event in which a competitor chooses a short story, a play, a cut piece from a larger text, or just any other published piece and interprets this piece in a performance up to ten minutes long. It is, of course, meant to be a dramatic performance.

Here is a description straight from the NSDA:

“Dramatic Interpretation, contrary to its name, is not all about drama. While dramatic elements are key aspects of the event, melodramatic, or overly-sad selections are not ideal choices for performance. DI lacks props, costuming, sets, and other luxuries seen in various forms of performance art. Students who choose to compete in Dramatic Interpretation should focus on suspending the disbelief of the audience by portraying a realistic, emotional journey of a character(s). The performance should connect to the audience.

Students who do Dramatic Interpretation may perform selections on topics of serious social subject matter such as coping with terminal illness; significant historical situations, events, and figures; as well as racial and gender discrimination, suppression, and oppression. Students should select pieces that are appropriate for them. Considerations for selecting a DI topic should include the student’s age, maturity, and school standards.”

Much like Humor, Drama is a one-person scene, but instead of going for Humor, a Dramatist goes for something more serious. But, like Humor, Drama requires a mastery of characterization, a strong understanding of the heart of the chosen piece, a disciplined approach to timing and blocking, and a whole lot of practice and nuance. Dramatic Interpretation presents a variety of unique challenges for student competitors.

Additionally, Dramatic pieces are touchstones for student emotional growth and understanding. Dramas can be powerful, impactful, and inspirational in the careful hands of a student competitor.


Five Tips for Dramatic Interpretation from Bailey Patterson - Kelly Walsh alum and now graduate assistant for the Communication and Journalism Department of the University of Wyoming

1. Choose a script you love. It’s difficult to create a compelling piece if it focuses on content you aren’t passionate about.

2. Visualize the world your character inhabits. Who are they talking to? How heavy is the object they’re holding? What does the room they’re in smell like? When you visualize the character’s environment you can more authentically imagine their experience and your audience will find your performance more believable.

3. Earn your dramatic moment. Cuttings that are dramatic for the entire ten minutes feel redundant and often become boring, even if the subject itself is interesting. Create a build in your script cutting to one clear climax. A steady progression to the saddest or angriest part of your piece is much more thrilling than a story that’s all sad all the time.

This leads perfectly into tip #4 which is...

4. Volume does not equal emotion. The impulse of a performer in dramatic interpretation is to yell, sob, even scream. While these choices shouldn’t be avoided altogether, find the moments of comedy, quiet, and even joy your character experiences and feature those in your performance just as much as the more serious moments.

And finally #5...

5. Do your research. It’s okay if you don’t identify with your character (or characters) 100% of the time, but you need to understand their needs, wants, and motivations at every point in your piece. For example, if you’re portraying a victim of the opioid crisis but don’t have experience with this yourself don’t just spend time memorizing lines and rehearsing your blocking. Research the history and stories of those who actually experienced the opioid crisis in some way. Remember, your character may be fictional, but they embody real-world experiences and it is your job to share their story to bring about meaningful change.

Thanks so much to Bailey for the gift of these great Dramatic Interpretation tips for competitors.


Want more Bailey on One Clap? You are in luck! I will link to her episode and a couple other great episodes that will help interpretative competitors here:

How the Worlds of Drama and Speech Intersect and Interact with Bailey Patterson

Saga McAllister and Coach Ashley Schulz Get to the Heart of Interpretation

Jayden Roccaforte, 2020 Prose National Champion, Knows the Power of a Powerful Story

Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the One Clap Podcast wherever you listen! Watch for new episodes of One Clap, Rock On! Debate, Coach Connection, Long Winter's Clap, and Speech Love!


More links to helpful resources for Poetry Interpretation:

NSDA Competition Guide:

Suggested Source Material for Interpretative Events from NSDA:

Speech Resources Video from the 2020 Wyoming Coaches Conference, Presented by Marcus Viney and Ashley Schulz:

Introduction to Coaching Dramatic and Humorous Interpretation from NSDA:

What to Expect Competing in Dramatic Interpretation from NSDA

Resources for Dramatic Interpretation from Judge Training:

Dramatic Interpretation Resources from

Sample Interpretative Ballot from NSDA:


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