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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Humor and Drama Sources and Ideas

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #16, Coach Rick Dorn discusses Humor and Drama.

New Coach 411 - Column #16

Humor and Drama Sources

In the last column, I wrote about ideas for finding Poetry and Program Oral Interpretation (POI) sources. I find that the first event first-time coaches and competitors will look to enter is Poetry, so it seemed logical. POI is a different animal, with a more complicated structure required to build a decent piece. I included POI because it is the closest to Poetry.

For this column, I decided to focus on Humorous Interpretation and Dramatic Interpretation. These events are slightly more difficult to create, but also tend to be popular areas for first-timers to try. Let’s talk about rules and then source material.

The rules are to have the piece fully memorized and under 10 minutes (with a 30 second grace period). The piece must be published, and an ISBN is usually necessary. There might be some smaller script websites that don’t really do ISBN’s. As long as it is published somehow (even digitally) it is okay.

The pieces that are used frequently are play scripts or excerpts from books or short stories. Film and television scripts are okay if you can find them published from a site like or Several of the national finalists in recent years have used scripts from sitcom episodes or movies. They can be very successful, but the cutting can be more intense.

Let’s talk about new competitors: it can be intimidating to hand a 130 page movie script or a 90 page play to a new student. They will need help with it. If time is a consideration, you might consider letting them dig through websites with simpler pieces. Websites are out there that will have 10-15 minute scripts available, and sometimes these sites will offer them digitally so you can access them immediately. I always recommend saving digital copies of scripts on a cloud drive or network. Students will absolutely lose the script repeatedly, and you will need to turn in information about the piece to compete at NSDA District competitions. Also, budgets are limited, so having previous year’s scripts available from year to year can help provide material. It is unethical to share the scripts with other schools though.

What are the limitations of these easily accessible 10 minute scripts? Well, they can be simplistic, corny, or overdone. They are good starter packs, but I’m not sure your most experienced students will want to use them. Those students will want to dig a little deeper.

So what else can work? The sky is the limit! I’ve seen great pieces done from popular novels, slapstick play scripts, magazine articles, and even children’s books. Personally, I avoid higher literature unless you can seriously cut with skill. Most of the time, the writing is too high level for the message to be quickly understood, or it’s simply not exciting enough. For example, I love Kazuo Ishiguro’s books The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. I would never use a selection out of them because it doesn’t fit the style of what works. It’s an experience thing - as you watch pieces, notice which type of pieces work best.

Watch for time - don’t wait until the last minute to order scripts that have to be mailed. Also, try to avoid pieces that are too popular. You will do better with a script like Will Ferrell’s Kicking and Screaming which fared poorly at the box office than you would with Elf.

I also would be very careful with the adult content. This can be tricky with serious pieces for Dramatic Interpretation. I understand that the most intense books and stories can get real reactions from the judges, but there is a limit to what kids should be doing. Profanity should be kept to a minimum, and help your students pick material they are comfortable with. For the sake of your sanity and job security, don’t force a kid to do a piece they have moral concerns about. Blocking is necessary, but be the adult and watch out that they don’t go too far. I’ve seen Dramatic Interps that looked like the high school actress was acting out a graphic rape. It made everyone uncomfortable, and sometimes less is more.

Good luck to all of you, and let me know if you get stuck finding a piece. I also do Theatre and so i can frequently suggest some interesting plays that are off the beaten path. Have a great January!

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

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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.


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