Forensic/Speech HS Pieces?
June 29, 2005 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Looking for High School Forensic competition pieces - it's a speech tournament, not science, and The Husband has coached the team for two years already. Maybe somebody has some familiarity with this and can give some suggestions of winning pieces? Categories inside.

The pieces need to be long - five to ten minutes. Categories in our state include Poetry (very hard to find long poems), Prose, Dramatic Interp (from a play), Comedic Interp (from a play), Storytelling (kid lit), and Duo acting. The pieces have to be from published works. The students try to find their own pieces, but often have trouble.
posted by rainbaby to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i won a high school speech competition (state!) in poetry with an edward gorey book. i did several gorey pieces while i was on the speech team, so i can't remember which one was the winner, but the books can be fairly long, plus the writing very much lends itself to vocal performance.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:41 AM on June 29, 2005

For Storytelling, I am pretty sure that Neil Gaiman's children's books would be quite well received. Coraline is really a novella, but an easy, quick read for an older kid. The Wolves in the Walls, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish . . . There's really a lot there.

Duo acting, if you have students who are good enough, a scene from Proof might be good (two girls mostly).

I'm trying to remember things that were done while I was in Literary (that's what "Forensics" was called): a girl did a dramatic interp from Crimes of the Heart - the scene where she puts her head in the stove. Comedy is harder, naturally, but my coach liked Steve Martin.

Long Poetry: TS Eliot could be a good solution. The Four Quartets, the Wasteland, the Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock . . .

I don't know if any of this is helpful whatsoever. :)
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:13 AM on June 29, 2005

For poetry, remember that for most states it doesn't have to be one long poem. Students can do a selection of poems from a given theme. From your post, it seems like your state rules may differ. If so, I apologize, and I'd be happy to investigate some good long poems. But here are some suggestions off the top of my head:

For example, you could select "death" as a theme and do "Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon, "The .38" by Ted Joans and "To an Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman. Think of any meaningful theme -- love, anger, jealousy -- and think of two to four poems that fit.

I think non-western poetry is underrepresented in high school speech. Pick up Crossing the Yellow River, which has 300 Chinese poems edited and translated by Sam Hamill. There is a nearly infinite selection of great poetry out there, and I'd be happy to provide specific suggestions at the email in my profile.

For the other categories, some general tips: consider first asking other coaches in your area about these suggestions. The reason for this is that many of these pieces are considered overdone in my area. This may not be true in your part of the country. Also, the NFL National qualifier tournament requires students to declare what pieces they will perform. Looking at lists from years past can give you a wealth of ideas.

So, here are a few interp suggestions. Some of these are popular pieces I've seen done over the years, others are pieces that I think would be excellent but haven't seen.

Dramatic interp does not have to be from a play. It usually is, but can also be from a movie script or novel. Some ideas: "'Night Mother" by Bill Johnson is commonly done; "Agnes of God"; "Johnny Got His Gun"; the end of "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut; "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard.

Duo: Greater Tuna is terrific, and as such is done all the time. Many parts of Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail, such as the anarcho-syndicalist commune exchange, also work. I have a friend who was very successful with her duo. I'll ask her what it was and post it later.

Comedic Interp: Consider that (in most states) the interper can do more than one character, so the same pieces I suggested for duo would work. Also: Neil Simon's plays are wonderful, but some years back he threatened lawsuits over high school forensics competitors using his work. Think of him as a one-man archaic RIAA.

Storytelling: Again, an infinite canvas. Check out the following books and I'm sure you'll find something: "Black Folktales" by Julius Lester, Yiddish Folktales by Beatrice Weinreich, and "A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World."

Good luck. I'm a former coach myself, and if I can be of any further assistance, let me know.
posted by jeffmshaw at 8:34 AM on June 29, 2005

After perusing the ol' bookshelf, I thought of some more.

Dramatic: Any part of "The Sweet Hereafter" by Russell Banks would be great.

Storytelling. I forgot "A Treasury of Yiddish Stories" by David Howe and Eliezer Greenberg.

Longer poems:

Rita Dove's "Thomas and Beulah" is a novel in poetry form, so it's many poems, but one narrative. Lawson Inada's "Legends From Camp" tells many stories in poem form, and has a compelling unifying theme. David Lee's "Driving and Drinking" is a book-length poem, but may be too edgy, depending upon your audience and what you select from it. "Beware: Do Not Read This Poem" by Ishmael Reed is fun, but may be shorter than you're looking for.
posted by jeffmshaw at 9:08 AM on June 29, 2005

For prose, might I suggest a montage from Leon Uris' TRINITY? I went to state and then nationals doing a reading from it... the trial scene is particularly poignant.
posted by silusGROK at 10:01 AM on June 29, 2005

Back in the day, playwright David Ives was a rich source of comedic interps. Start with his All in the Timing, a compilation of one-acts that in retrospect are almost perfectly crafted for the Forensics format. Then again, he was pretty overdone 8 years ago and fresh material is highly rewarded at the higher levels of competition.

Thought I mostly did debate, a good friend and I pulled off a wonderful adaptation of theHitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy radio scripts (ahem, this was 8 years ago) as a duo. Couldn't work now, of course.

Monty Python's great and all, but was also way overdone and lends itself to horrid high-school pseudo-British accents. A Gaiman/Pratchett book Good Omens, on my desk currently, seems like it would be a rich source of comedic interps.
posted by fatllama at 10:11 AM on June 29, 2005

Any Christopher Durang lends well to speech competitions (I've seen "Beyond Therapy" win quite a bit in Duo, but it might also work for HI if someone is good with voices). He's very regional (Chicago) so he probably won't be overdone in your state.

I did very well in DI with Tom Topor's "Nuts" -- although editing must be done to avoid all the naughty words. It's a beautiful piece.

Also, there are a few scenes in Hal Hartley's TRUST (the screenplay is available in print) that are really stunning as a duo, but you need to combine two scenes as his two-people scenes are rarely long enough.

HI -- In Illinois, it didn't have to be just from a play. I've seen lots of hysterical interps from Woody Allen books (Without Feathers, etc.)

I've done the opening scene from FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS as an interp, but I couldn't quite carry off a two-males as a perky girl. Perhaps a more brusk guy would have better luck with it. If just to have the opportunity to scream "The goddamn bats!" at a speech team meet. (A treasured experience of mine, let me tell you.)

There was an original comedy routine as one of the categories occasionally in Illinois and the best one mocked forensic script choices. Night Mama, Agnes of God and Steel Magnolias all were the butt of the "overdone, overwrought" jokes, although Illinois 12 years ago ain't now.
posted by Gucky at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2005

I had success with some of James Thurber's short stories in the comedy category; several of them are just the right length to work for this. The nose-insulting monologue and duel from the opening act of Cyrano de Bergerac is also good, and can really show off a performer's dramatic and comedic range.

And speaking as someone who's also judged forensics competitions: for duo pieces, avoid anything by Neil Simon or Nora Ephron; they're woefully overused for these competitions, and the simple fact that you're not doing one of those cliche duo pieces can often go a long way with a judge who's already heard the same cut from Plaza Suite five times that day. Same goes for poetry: anything about "my mother's hands" is automatically out, for example. And the best comedic performance I ever saw as a judge, bar none, was a cut from Variations on the Death of Trotsky, and it was the only time, as a judge or as a competitor, that I ever saw someone use it.
posted by ubernostrum at 11:22 AM on June 29, 2005

Rosalie's Good Eats Cafe
by Shel Silverstein
posted by yclipse at 3:30 PM on June 29, 2005

It's been about 15 years since I did any of that, but I liked humor/satire columnists for prose: think Dave Barry, Mike Royko, Andy Rooney, etc.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:22 PM on June 29, 2005

I'm from Texas and Christopher Durang and Tom Stoppard were insanely overdone. As was my inital recommendation, Spalding Gray. If you have an especially brave kid, there may be some stuff from Chuck Pahlaniuk that would work. The modern humorists such as David Sedaris, Dave Barry, etc are also good.

I'm amazed at how universal these pieces seem to be...the stuff people are mentioning are the things that I used almost ten years ago. Crazy.
posted by amandaudoff at 7:48 PM on July 9, 2005

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