New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #18, Coach Rick Dorn discusses the use of playscripts for interpretive performances.
New Coach 411 - Column #18
The past few months, I’ve been writing about the different events, including the interpretations (Humor, Drama, Poetry, and POI). I also spent time last month talking about the intricacies of cutting a piece. I wanted to extend my thoughts about a major source for HI, DI, and POI: Playscripts.
Plays are a great source for material. There is only dialogue which means the cutting is easier than a book/short story with lengthy descriptions. Usually, the dialogue includes an abbreviated form of exposition too, so the cutting is smoother at getting to the meat of the piece.
Let’s talk about scripts for a second. As I said last month, you can find scripts that are 10-15 minutes that take minimal cutting to get them down to size. You can find scripts for any conceivable topic from a variety of sites at a variety of length. Some of the pieces I have seen do well at Nationals were from 30-50 minute plays. You can also cut longer plays so don’t discount full-length shows. If you are interested in multi-character scenes, plays work for this.
I’ll give you an example: there is a piece called "Sleepover from Hell" that has done well at Nationals. It is roughly a 60 minute play featuring numerous elementary/middle school age girls with different exaggerated characteristics. I saw it at Nationals performed twice in Humor with completely different cuttings, and with different characters featured by each performer. Both competitors found a unique way to approach the piece, and both made the central point slightly different. Each person used the piece to pull out the most interesting bits to tell a cogent story.
Scripts are not as easy to find as regular novels. Personally, I keep a library of scripts as the theatre director, but most schools have different coaches for both drama and speech/debate. In that case, approach your theatre director about ideas for scripts, or reach out to other coaches. Investing in well known dramas/comedies is not a bad idea either. Think of classic comedies, and you can probably find usable pieces. For example, think of "The Odd Couple" or "Arsenic and Old Lace." I’ve even used Shakespeare pieces. Anything can work with the right cutting!
Major companies to search for classic comedies or dramas would include Samuel French and Dramatists. These are the oldest companies, but both have been bought out by newer companies. Writers like Don Zolidis have helped build newer companies like Playscripts into script behemoths by being a little easier to work with and more friendly to speech contests and the struggling coaches.
One more option that is now acceptable and legal for speech contests are screenplays. If you can find a published copy of the screenplay, they are now okay to use. Some scripts are published as books, but most aren’t. Your best bet to find that script to read is scriptfly.com and scriptcity.com. I said this last month, but don’t do the overly popular movie or tv show. Nationals top two Humors a couple of years ago were both from a movie or tv show in the form of "Kicking and Screaming" and the pilot episode of "Fresh Off the Boat." Both were relatively underknown properties.
As always, if I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me!
If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!
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. He was just honored as the 2022-2023 Communicator of the Year by the Wind River District.
Check out the 2023 February Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter from One Clap: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ypURBXqOpsghYQhAOXEFDrrssSPn0dzE/view?usp=sharing