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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Cutting an Interpretative Piece

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #17, Coach Rick Dorn explores ideas for cutting an interpretative piece for competition.

New Coach 411 - Column #17

Cutting an Interpretive Piece for Competition

We’ve been talking about sources for dramatic, duo, humor, prose, poetry, and POI. Every one of those events have the same requirements in that all have to be trimmed down to fit under 10 minutes with blocking. So, let’s talk about cutting a piece.

The best pieces are more complex and take the audience on a journey. Sometimes that can be accomplished in a single monologue, but usually it takes a bit more. While I highly recommend websites/publishers like JD Drama, Brooklyn Publishing, and so forth for having simple short pieces that can save a new coach’s sanity, at a certain point, your advanced competitors will want more.

In an activity where big programs are paying for national coaches to zoom in and help with blocking and cutting pieces, small teams are struggling to keep their head above water. The ten to fifteen minute pieces from sites like JD, Brooklyn, Mushroom, and so many more are really easy to trim down to size and get a student performing. Small programs and young coaches should absolutely use those pieces.

Let’s talk about the more advanced competitors though. They will not be satisfied doing a piece like that. They see their competition doing more poignant and deeper pieces. So, what can you do?

First, read as much as possible. If possible, recruit other avid readers to help with that. And the topics in the books should reflect what works well in your community. For example, I try to read as many first person memoirs as I can. They can make really strong Humorous and Dramatic pieces. This year, I sought out Jeanette McCurdy and Matthew Perry memoirs. Both lent themselves to good Dramatic sources. Having a piece written in the first person helps greatly with cutting. Third person narratives can be more difficult due to the numerous “he said-type descriptors” in the narration.

Second, funny essay collections can make great humorous selections. I’ve seen pieces by David Sedaris done well. Comedian books work in this way also. My personal favorite is Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess. Her books are profane but very funny. Classic comedy scripts from the theatre can also work really well.

So, you’ve found a piece you really like. How do you take a 90 page play script, or a 120 page movie script, or a section out of a 200+ page book, and turn it into a good interpretation piece? I follow a few key steps to maximize my time:

Have the students read the source material and use sticky notes to mark their favorite spots.

Look at those spots to find a connecting thread. Make sure enough of an ending is there so you have a good stopping point. You do NOT have to get to the very end of the story to have a good piece. If you can get there, great, but if not, find a good climax to be your stopping point.

When reading through, select the most momentous points in the story to include. Kissing, sword fights, death scenes, whatever. Thin out the descriptive pieces as much as you can to keep the action moving. Classic literature can be difficult to use because of this.

When you time what you have so far, if you are still too long, see if the beginning of the piece can be shortened or removed. Horror movies have gotten away from the long exposition in favor of shocking moments right away to keep the audience’s attention. Interps work the same way. Start with a funny or serious moment to wake up that judge! Give the backstory in abbreviated form or even just in the introduction.

Thin it so you have time to add blocking. A good time is between 7 and 9 minutes, because the blocking and introduction will add time.

Be sure to be faithful to the script. Don’t add lines to emotional impact that aren’t in there. It is okay to repeat lines, but mark it accordingly in the script. I’ve had duets that felt the need to add a character singing, and they had to remove it or face disqualification.

This takes time, so don’t do twenty of them the first week of the season. If possible, watch for potential pieces all year long. Also, keep copies of everything! You can pull out trusty pieces that have worked well and use them again. I would not recommend using the same piece every year though. Judges get tired of them. Leave pieces alone for a couple of years before pulling them back out and of course, the same student cannot do the same piece ever again.

If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at

Hope this helps! Have a great season!

Rick Dorn

Worland High School

Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice and has coached numerous students to national competition.


Check out the 2023 February Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter from One Clap:


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