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Prose Reading: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Updated on February 20, 2011

Competitors in Prose Reading can find everything they would ever want, or need, to know about the competitive acting event Prose right on this page. What to look for in a piece, tips for delivering and cutting a piece, things NOT to do, EVERYTHING a speech competitor needs to know in order to be successful in Prose Interpretation!

Prose: Overview

Prose is expression through sentences and paragraphs. Or NOT poetry. Any fiction or non-fiction published, printed novel or short story can be selected to be cut for a Prose piece (however, your Prose piece can not also be used for any other event you are competing in).

Prose tells a story. A great Prose competitor will use diction, facials, gestures, eye contact, intonation, and pace (quickness/slowness/pauses) to their advantage. Every choice made in Prose needs to benefit the piece and help tell the story and aid interpretation. Also, adding this variety and texture with your body and voice keeps the audience interested and distinguishes you from people merely reading the words.

If there are multiple characters, each one needs to be different as shown through body language, stance, and voice. The Prose performer will have memorized the piece, however needs to give the impression that they are reading the story to the audience. The piece is “read” from a tiny, black binder held in the competitor’s hand. The binder can be a fabulous tool when used effectively (holding it tight to your body alters your stance and gives a completely different vibe from holding the book at a comfortable distance, for instance). Melting the binder into you and your voice is an art that takes practice.

Effectively telling a story takes lots of practice, devotion, and creativity. You are being judged on how well you bring life to the story. The more work you have done interpreting the piece and understanding it, the better you can make the fantasy reality. The crispness of mental imagery you have when you read a novel or short story is what you need to strive for your audience to achieve through you.

Prose: Structure and Rules

The performer chooses a selection from a published, printed work of prose (sentences and paragraphs), makes a cutting (coherent story with clear introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement), places the cutting in a small, black binder, analyzes/interprets/practices, and then goes to competition. At a tournament, the performer competes in three rounds (in each round giving an introduction to the piece) and possibly a fourth if they break to finals.


--All selections must be from published, printed works of prose (fiction: novels, short stories; non-fiction: articles, journals, essays, biographies )

--Cutting must tell a story and have a clear progression of events

--Must be within time (ten minutes is normal, although some areas vary)

--An introduction is required (names author, title, gives any necessary information, and sets the tone) and given after a minute or so of the piece has been delivered, at a natural break-point

--Interpretation is most of what you will be ranked by, so know the plot, the characters, the theme, EVERYTHING

--No props or costumes

--All gestures, stances, facials, vocals/intonations need to support that character (and needs to be unique to that particular character), help tell story, and be clear

--Diction is important

--No moving—you must stand in one place, but are allowed to change stance for different characters

--Although not a rule, use of anything other than a 10” black binder usually results in lose of points

--Binder needs to be an extension of you, if it looks awkward you will lose points

--Although most Prose performers memorize (and it is recommended), you need to give the appearance of reading, so look down at strategic, planned spots

--Page turns can add or subtract points pending on if they work with you or against you (be mindful of their placement and how you turn)

--Cannot use Prose cutting in your Duo, HI, or DI

--Eye contact is vital, address your audience and do not be afraid to look at them—it can be an intense tool

Excelling at Prose: An Advanced Guide

If someone were to ask me what my strongest speech event was, I would unreservedly reply Prose. It was my event. When people on my team needed help on Prose, they came to me. I made it to Sectionals for that event. Prose was a passion; the binder containing my cutting precious to embrace. I will never say I know everything about the event, but I can confidently say I know more than most. Prose is not just reading. It is an art. And in this tutorial, I am going to provide helpful hints and advice to benefit not only beginners but seasoned Readers. Although this is not all I learned about Prose, these are the essentials and what I feel needs to be mastered to succeed. Harnessing this knowledge can give you the edge to go beyond the average Proser.

1. Piece Selection/Cutting

A Prose Reader needs to be a fine chief. To cook a masterpiece you need the right ingredients; to consistently perform well you need the right piece. Selecting an excerpt from a novel, or trimming a short story, is not only the easiest way to locate a piece, but the most functional as well. Novels and short stories are designed to have arches (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement) and will provide the framework for your selection. Novels can be tricky, but select the most complete story portion. You need a piece that allows for drama/comedy, hold’s the audience’s attention, facilitates characters (developed characters), and above all is something you love. You will be analyzing, practicing, and performing this piece for vast stretches of time. You need to love this enough to want to nurture it, improve it, and live it over and over again. If you find the right piece, you find your passion.

2. Analysis

Prose Interpretation. You can love this piece with every fiber, but if you do not take the time to analyze it and truly understand it, you will not get far in Prose. Sorry. If literary analysis is not something you want to do, then Prose might not be the event for you. You need to attack this as a literary student and as an actor. You need to ask, what is the theme? What does this piece mean to me and why bother telling it? Is there symbolism? Who is this character? What does this person want, from who/it, and how are they going to get it (by begging, teasing, flattery, etc.—use action verbs)? How does this person view this person/idea/situation/environment? What is the eventual outcome and how did we get there? Are all characters trustworthy or are some cunning? Is the narrator trustworthy? Why does the author use this particular word; why this language (look at the diction of the work). Does setting play a role? What can setting and physical descriptions of characters tell me about their portrayal? And so on. Obviously this list does go on and alters for specific genres and pieces. My personal golden rule for literature, drama, and life: always questions why.

3. The Introduction

Placement of the intro is something to be well-thought out. Although you can have your intro at the very beginning of your performance, I find it more professional and dramatic to give a short teaser prior (teaser: reading a short selection of your piece before the introduction). This teaser acts as a hook to your audience—it gets them interested and wanting more. Keep the teaser short and have it end on a button, a final sentence that sparks the audience. A button can be a revelation, a decision, or a revealing fact, to list a few. The introduction itself needs to memorized and delivered with your Prose Book closed. I found it useful to place the introduction after the first page. That way, you can quickly turn the page, leave your finger between the pages as a bookmark, and close the book all in one graceful swoop. When I opened my book, I knew exactly what line to start from too because it was the first line of the new page. Introductions need to list the author’s name, the title, give necessary information, and act as bait for the audience if they were not caught by the teaser. Give them some food-for-thought in the introduction, and perhaps leave them with a question to ponder that can be answered or look-out by listening to your piece. Also, introductions need to be practiced, from closing the book until you open it again. Introductions give you the opportunity to be yourself, show off your confidence, and thus leaves you open. If you are unrehearsed and look terrified, the judge will instantly see that because you cannot hide behind the binder.

4. Body

This might not be a walking event, but your body needs to be active. Rigor mortis and energy are contagious, and both are given off by you and your body during performance. If you are into performing your piece, and you use your body effectively, this energy will exude from you and people can sense it. To look confident, give yourself a strong stance with legs somewhat apart and comfortably bent—unless the piece details otherwise, but typically a solid stance works for the main voice. Own the room with your stance! All characters should have some sort of body change that works with the interpretation given to that character. It can be your stance, how you hold your shoulders/book/head, or specific gestures to that character. Do not go overboard, this should be subtle. Remember, this is NOT HI/DI, but Prose. We guide the audience along by the hand, and sudden, jerky movements tend to break our magic. Sometimes quick character pops are required for snappy dialogue, but most often smooth, non-sluggish, polished transitions are fine because they mimic your tone. Look to your piece for the answer to timing! All gestures made need to be seen. If they look half-complete, the judge will mark that. Also, control your body. Do not rock back and forth, slap your hands to the side of your body, twitch, or repeat the same hand-extension gesture; rein-in nervous movement! Basically, all movements need to be pre-planned so muscle memory can occur during performance. Train your body what to do and even if your mind gets lost, your body will remember and help place you back on path.

5. Facials

The same attention given to body should be given to facials. The audience will be looking at your face. It needs to be alive at all times. I am not saying pretend to be Jim Carey, but emotions need to be seen. You are reliving a moment and that moment is to be seen on the face. Every character’s facials need to be appropriate for that character. Like body movements, all facials need to be planned so you do not give some non-human, unrelated to the piece facial that throws you off because you’re thinking “why did I do THAT?!” I know some people who like to work in front of a mirror to study their face. I personally get annoyed with how fake I look trying look good, so I prefer facing a wall and visualizing what I am doing and then having a coach or friend watch to get feed-back. I also think that facials should mostly be subtle, natural, and visible. Again, if you look like you made a mistake because a facial was half-done, the judge will mark it. Immerse yourself in the piece, and the facials will come.

6. Eye Contact

Because this is Prose Reading, you must read from the pages periodically and give the appearance of reading; even though you should have memorized your piece for total understanding and control. I tend to look down a few times per page, pending on how much I put on that page. Moreover, how long you look down can be dynamic. Are you sad or perplexed? Reading a sentence might add to the drama. Are you frantic? Quick glances here and there add to the panic. As always, plan this out, make it routine, and practice. Another place for eye contact is at the audience. When not “reading” or glancing away for theatrical appeal, you should be engaging the audience with eye contact. DO NOT only look at the judge. You are performing for other people as well. Use the layout of people to your advantage—scanning and picking individuals to look at for an extended time during specified intense moments add to the performance. It also boosts your appearance of confidence by being able to look at the crowed. Finally, not looking at people, staring blindly into the book, or looking into space can be compelling as well.

7. Book

A whole article can be written on book procedure alone, but here are the basics. Find the most comfortable way to hold your book (I like a nice cradle) and practice holding it. The book is an extension of you, and therefore, you need to wield it with authority. For instance, being able to clasp it tight to your body, hold it away in disgust/anxiety, find shelter behind it, lovingly hold it, and stroking or flicking its pages for page turns all tell a different story of the atmosphere of the piece/character for that moment. All book openings and closings need to fit the mood of the moment and be rehearsed. The book is NEVER to be used as a prop, so be careful with any of these choices that the book is not taking attention away from you. Further, Prose Books should be a 10” black binder—anything else and you might loose points for being “distracting.” There are no regulations on the book, but this is standard. You should also glue/tape your cutting onto black construction paper to match. Placing the paper in plastic page holders/laminates is your decision. Just be aware plastic is slippery so tabs on the sides are often helpful when trying to grab a page.

8. Voice

Your voice needs to caress the words. It is your job to turn the text vibrant and make it live. After analyzing the piece, your voice is what animates the interpretation most. The secret with vocals is variation. Unless otherwise stated, your main voice should be smooth, engrossing, mindful of diction/pronunciation, clear, and a treat to the ears. All characters should have their own voice that suits their personality. Dialogue is to be natural and with expression. Play with tone, pitch, rhythm, volume, and all forms of dynamics.

Prose Piece Selection

Part of what makes for a great Prose performance is finding a good piece. Somewhat a subjective task, searching for a Prose piece that can help take you to State/Nationals is one of the first steps every Forensicator of the event must take. It's frustrating, devours time, and often ends in disappointment from pieces that look good but ultimately fail. While piece finding is hard, it is not impossible and does not require Indiana Jones' assistance. To find the piece suitable for you, take note of these guidelines of criteria:

--What interests you? Just because most Prose pieces center around dramas of death, disease, and destruction (The Three D's) does NOT mean your piece must. What genres and topics interest you? Are you a strong comedic performer? Find a humorous Prose. Is Gothic Literature your favorite? Try horror. Like coming-of-age tales? Go for it. Select a piece that interests you and will hold your attention. If you're bored, the audience will know. Besides, Forensics should be fun and not a chore.

--What is your type? You might love that story of a young boy on an adventure, but if you cannot do the voice of a young boy it is not even worth pursuing. Try to think of what you could be cast as. Are you a motherly sort? Rebellious teen? Think of roles you can fit; voices you can do. Much of Prose is about the voice, so if you are unable to work it things will not go favorably.

--Comfort zone. As stated, Prose has this nasty habit of hovering around The Three D's. There is a belief that dramas dealing with tearful subjects are better stories and of higher difficulty. THAT is a discussion for another article, but for this all you need to know is that if there is a particular subject you are uncomfortable using, DO NOT DO IT. Being uncomfortable shows. You will look distressed, your audience will feel the awkward vibe, and everyone suffers. Your Prose will never have an opportunity to even become good because you will always have reservations. It's a lose-lose for everyone.

--Challenging VS safe. When selecting a piece you have to think long term as well. Can this story keep you challenged and encourage your growth throughout the season, or will you plateau mid-way through? Is it a Prose that is slightly risky as well and gets the audience thinking? Or are these words a safe bet of sappiness that will get you the response you desire with minimal work? If all you care about is rank, and not the art, certainly go for safe. If you want to become a better Prose Reader then test your abilities.

--Can this be cut? If a piece cannot be cut to fit time (or to fit the basic storytelling structure: Exposition (introduction of characters, setting, etc.) --> CONFLICT and Rising Action (the issue is discovered and problems arise due to the conflict) --> Climax (the height of conflict and highest tension; everything is unleashed!) --> Falling Action (things begin to settle down and a solution is sought) --> Dénouement (the resolution/conclusion; things come to an end happily or not)) place it aside. You want practical pieces, not Epics of Ben-Hur proportions. Unless this is your dream Prose of all pieces, scrap it. If this is your Red Ryder then best of luck!

--Universal. NEVER, EVER cater to an audience. However, do try to select a piece that most people can connect to and enjoy. Even if you chose a risky piece, one rarely seen, it can still have appeal to the masses. How many tiny films have gone on to be HUGE success stories because the audience saw something in them (My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, Juno, Saw, etc. ). It is possible to turn a little something into a BIG something if there is a story an audience can relate to.

--Do you love it? This is self-explanatory. Why bother working on a piece if you do not love it? No reason.

Many questions to ask yourself as you seek out a Prose, but these questions do need answering. There is no formula for selecting a piece. Every Prose Reader has different needs and wants. To base choosing a piece on what will help you win is ridiculous. Find a piece that is best for you and the breaks and rankings will follow.

Why you shouldn’t do your D.I. piece for Prose

When selecting a prose piece for Oral Interpretation, many competitors turn to their Dramatic Interpretation scripts. It’s true that doing your D.I. piece for O.I. can save time, help with memorization and build confidence, but there are a few reasons you should seek out a second script.

First, doing the same piece in two events is for beginners. Newbies are often handed one interp piece to do for both D.I. and prose. This saves them the trouble of having to diligently search for a second piece, and it’s a simple way to help someone ease into competition without overwhelming them with too much material. In junior division, it’s actually surprising to see competitors who are doing two different pieces. But once you’ve advanced to senior division, you should be able to manage separate scripts for Dramatic and prose.

Second, in O.I., you always have the option to glance down at your binder, but in D.I. your lines must be memorized. Using the same piece for both events can make you become too dependent on your script. This goes both ways: if your piece is “too memorized,” it won’t work well for prose performance because you need to maintain a balance between looking at your pages and looking at your audience. The interpretation techniques for the two events are also slightly different, so it is easy to tell when a competitor is recycling a piece.

Another problem is that judges will often evaluate a Dramatic panel in the first round and then end up judging an O.I. round later in the same tournament. It is not uncommon for the same judge to be responsible for deciding your score twice, so if you’re using the same piece for both events, it might cause you to lose points if your judge didn’t appreciate your original interpretation of the piece.

It’s OK to use the same piece in both events if it’s the beginning of the year and you’re trying to start slow; people will understand if you have a lot of things going on at the start of school. But after the first few tournaments, you should always try to vary the subject and focus of your pieces because it helps you to exercise your talents.

If you’re not sure where to begin looking for a prose piece, consider using a selection from one of your favorite novels or short story collections. Don’t settle for repetition! Try to find a new or unique piece that nobody else is using right now. There is an abundance of short stories, books, and plays that would be perfect for O.I. at your local library.

Prose Cutting

Creating a cutting for any event is an art. It takes patience, knowledge of structure, and a full understanding of the author's story. Prose is no exception. Do not assume that because you can make use of short story, or a chapter from a book, that cutting a piece is any simpler. Because it's not. This event offers its own challenges to cutting that other events do not. It also offers some of the same hurtles.

--NOT a DI/HI Interpretation. By this it is meant that Prose Interpretation is not like Humorous/Dramatic Interpretation in the sense that full-blown character pops are not used. Actually, that level of physical interpretation and back-and-forth dialogue is anti-Prose. Vocalization is essential, as well as interp of the story, but usually through the use of a narrator. Prose pieces that do contain multiple characters generally only use other voices sparingly. Thus, as you cut you need to keep in mind to not set-up a discourse that will eventually become HI or Di-esque. If you are interested in completely embodying and popping between several characters cut a Dramatic or Humorous Interpretation.

--Time. Most time limits fall between 8-10 minutes. Your Prose must meet this requirement. The easiest way for a Prose cutting to fit time while doing the least amount of trimming is to select a chapter from a book OR a short story as a piece. However, that does not necessarily mean cutting will be simple. A novel's chapter might need some extra information from previous or later chapters to help create the arc. Short stories might still need to be cut for length. Whichever source material you choose, be certain you can cut it for time. KNOW you can before you begin or risk wasting a lot of effort.

--Development complications. Many authors like to take their time developing an idea over a stretch of the piece. And that works in a novel or short story. The reader has the ability to place the work down and continue later. Prose does not offer this luxury. You have to be able to tell a story in time. As you read the ENTIRE material to gather insight for analysis, and to see if the selection is right for you, pay attention to the story. Ask yourself if a tale can be cut down without sacrificing quality. Some ideas are just too grand for the limit time you have to perform. You can always cut an idea to the essentials, but would it make for a good piece when cut?

--Find the one story. You Prose should not resemble "Spider-man 3's" script (a tri-fecta of too many plot-lines and not enough time to develop all of the stories properly). Your Prose needs to have one solid story that is interpreted in-depth. You might be able to slip in a supporting character story if it relates directly to the lead's somehow. Otherwise, read your material and find the one story you wish to perform and make a cutting based around that central idea. This will add focus and a tightness to your piece.

--Structure. A cutting is a mini-version of the larger whole. Your cutting must have proper structure or the audience will be left feeling like an element is missing. Basic plot structure is as follows: Exposition (introduction of characters, setting, etc.) --> CONFLICT and Rising Action (the issue is discovered and problems arise due to the conflict) --> Climax (the height of conflict and highest tension; everything is unleashed!) --> Falling Action (things begin to settle down and a solution is sought) --> Dénouement (the resolution/conclusion; things come to an end happily or not). Organizing your cutting around this will help move the plot along and keep the audience involved. If your author tells the story in a non-linear fashion (flashbacks, in reverse) try your best to craft a cutting that mirrors the structure they have created (they wrote it like so for a reason).

--Unnecessary information. If you are having difficulties making time you might have to rethink your cutting. Is there any information you left in the piece that has no real reason for being there? Is it absolutely necessary? If the the audience does not need to know then cut that bit until your performance becomes tighter and you have extra time to add it back in. Prose cuttings are organic and changing. You can always make adjustments. Do try to keep a couple jokes or extra fluff though as a way to draw the audience in--if you can. 10 minutes of straight fact or sorrow is tiring. A good laugh is often needed and wanted.

These tips and tricks can help you create a solid Prose cutting. As stated earlier, most of this is useful for doing cross-event work. Yet, there are some particulars unique to Prose. Think logically and design a Prose cutting around what type of piece you wish to practice and perform. What story is it you wish to tell? Answer that and chase after it.

Pops In Prose

In Oral Interpretation, you can basically perform any piece that’s published, but it’s best to avoid doing a dramatic piece with many characters for one reason: pops. If you want to perform a dramatic piece for prose, I would advise against doing a piece with many characters because the pops can be overwhelming if you are holding a binder. Shifting between two characters is fine, but many more than that will just water down your performance and make it hard for your audience to follow the piece. Of course, there are ways to get around this, such as making your binder part of each character stance – raising it slightly and keeping one hand on it as one character, holding it lower for another character and letting the other hand rest by your side – but in general, it’s best to use prose pieces that have just one or two characters. A great way to get away with doing pops in prose is to coordinate the character transitions with your page turns. For example, if you’re performing an epistolary piece – meaning that it is written in/you are interpreting it in a letter format, with one character reading a letter to the other and vice versa, try to fit each character’s separate speech on a separate page. That way, you can read one page as one character and then transition to the second character while you are turning the page. Keep in mind that this advice pertains to dramatic prose pieces. If you’re performing a humorous prose piece, by all means, transition with character pops if at all possible! It really adds to the energy of a humorous piece and will allow you to have some fun with your physical interpretation of the script. Again, you can even make your page turns part of the performance: If you’re playing a loud, energetic character, flip the page dramatically. If one of your characters shakes or wiggles throughout the piece, translate that action to your page turns as well. Don't forget that you aren't allowed to use your binder in a way that might be considered a "prop." At one competition, I saw a girl pantomime blowing fairy dust on her binder and opening it dramatically to begin her piece, which was about fairy tales. That probably wouldn't cut it in most districts...

Prose Vocals

In Prose Reading, the use of vocals can be one of the most important aspects to performance. Through the use of voice character is developed and interpreted. The audience's main method to follow the story is by listening; unlike Humorous Interpretation where physicality better complements vocals. Prose is about voice, no question. So what can you do to use your vocal chords fully?

--Reading Voice. The event is called Prose Reading. This event is like a throwback to the olden' days when people would sit around in a circle and tell stories because radio and television had yet to begin to diminish our minds. Back then, storytelling was an art. Mostly people would follow an oral tradition a tell a story from memory. However, if someone could read they would read aloud to a group. Listeners would obviously want to hear someone with a nice voice that is easy to follow. That is your objective in Prose: find a voice. The narrator, unless the piece states/implies otherwise, should have a good voice an audience wants to listen to. One of the best compliments a Prose Reader can receive is to be told they have a "nice reading voice." Caress the words. Feel them. Lovingly embrace them and share them with the audience. Not that this will ensure you win the round, but it certainly helps to have a great reading voice.

--Clarity through diction and projection. There is nothing worse than listening to a Prose and having no clue what it is they are saying. It is aggravating and mildly depressing when it looks like you are missing an excellent performance. To avoid upsetting your audience practice improving your vocal range and articulation. Simply stated, hit all your consonants and vowels while speaking loudly enough with support to be heard. Here is a wonderful community blog that can help you better both.

--Variation. Though you want to have a fantastic reading voice for Prose, you also do not want to induce slumber upon your audience. What can you do? Avoid monotone! This can be accomplished through varying your use of tone, pitch, pace/rhythm, and dynamics. Tone is the character of the sound. Recall your mother saying "don't take that tone with me" when you were being sarcastic? That's you using a sarcastic tone. It's the mood of the sound. Pitch is the key you are speaking--such as high or low pitched. Musically, high pitched would be the Soprano and low pitched would be the base. Pace and rhythm are the patterns you speak with. Are you talking fast or slow (pace)? Are you talking steady or with many pauses, then steady, followed with a gradual speeding up then slowing down (rhythm--maybe best related to musically as the time you keep, like 4/4 or 3/4)? And dynamics are changes in volume. Such as starting soft and then crescendo until you are loud. Or you do the opposite with a decrescendo. Dynamics are the extremes and the gradual growth in-between. Your voice offers multiple ways to add variation, so have fun!

--Interpretation. Every Prose story has characters that need development. They need a voice, and it is your job to find it. Look towards the script and begin to decipher the character from the text. What are their wants, desires, interests, quirks, socio-economic level, feeling towards others, etc. Flush them out as much as possible. After you find them a voice will come. Then analyze the lines and find the motivation and subtext behind all sentences. Apply the use of variation in accordance to the interpretation of character. In fact, any Prose vocals need to be done with the interpretation of the text as guidance. Your vocals must match the interpretation provided within the text.

Prose vocals hardly differ from those of other events in the process of creation. However, the drastic change lies in the nature of the event. Prose is built on voice. There is use of body to tell the story, but the main tool is voice. Therefore, extra focus must be done on creating a fantastic piece to listen to. It is not enough to have a few vocally powerful spots and the rest be mediocre. EVERYTHING must be brilliant. Prose gives you a book. It is your job to create magic from the words within using your voice.

Making Page Turns Work For You

In the events of Poetry and Prose, that little black binder serves as an extension of you. Although it is never to be used as a prop, if manipulated appropriately, that binder can be used as a tool to enhance your performance. One such way to subtly use your binder as an interpretative agent is to utilize page turns. Think about it. We create a cutting of Prose/Poetry and divide our piece into manageable paragraphs that can stand alone and place each chunk on a separate page. We then have to pause and turn the page to move along. That pause and turn can either be used to draw the audience in or remind them you have a binder in your hands. Paying attention to page turns and planning the choreography of them can also add a subliminal edge to your performance that may help lead to a higher rank. Presentation is vital when you hold a binder, and the following items below can help your performance.

Essentially there are two types of turns: the slow turn and the quick turn. As simple as this concept sounds, actually interpreting which speed of turn is the most effective for a specific page can make a difference in the visual story you tell. If you are going to put energy into facials, gestures, and other body movements then why wouldn’t you plan out the movement of your binder/pages? Using a slow turn tells a tale of being somber, reflective, fearful, etc. A slow turn also allows for you to give a deliberate facial while either “reading” through to the next page or using silence as emphasis. A slow turn also works very well when you first open your binder and when you last close it. This slow turn lets you capture the audience and ease them in/out of the story. Further, a slow turn allows time for you to make eye contact with your audience while not “reading”. This can be a great way to leave your audience feeling important and part of your presentation, thus drawing them further into your story.

A quick turn is wonderful to accentuate panic, desperation, anger, excitement, or any other pulse quickening emotion. A quick turn can be done and then followed with a pause to highlight a moment or it can be utilized with you reading from page to page swiftly. I would recommend using quick turns sparingly as they can be jarring. If used too much a quick turn loses its impact as well. Most often, having one or two quick turns captures the audience’s attention; not only from the speed and the ‘whoosh!’ sound that is created but from the emotional action. It’s a vocal, violent turn, and this simple turn gets the audience excited and engaged.

One thing to remember when contemplating the slow or quick turn is speed variation. Not all slow and quick turns are created equally. You will not want to turn too swiftly/slowly or risk losing your audience. The trick is to be dramatic/theatrical but not overly melodramatic. If you were to see a dramatic Prose with a performer taking forever to turn their page because they wanted to look at the audience with tears and a sad face for an eternity, you would either yawn or laugh. Either way, that turn failed.

Another thing to think about is what material composes your pages. Do you just have your cutting glued/taped onto black paper or do you have your pages placed in plastic covers? Different materials lend themselves to how easy/difficult it is to grab and turn a page. I always found basic black construction paper to work best. The page was firm yet had a bend to it which I found easy to grip and turn. I could also easily jot notes directly onto my page with the only hassle being finding a pencil. In comparison, plastic covers irritated me. They were slippery, which made turning pages a game of can I grasp it? Plastic covers also meant I had to remove the page from the cover before I could write anything. Not a huge deal, but this ended up being a chore and aggravating when I had a thought that might float away.

If you do have issues grabbing a page, an easy solution is to place a tape tab on the edge of the page (a tape tab is made simply by taping one end of a tape strip to the front of the page while folding the other end over to the back of the page). Align tabs as you would divider tabs in any binder (top to bottom) and viola! You can now easily grab hold of every page in your binder—-and in sequential order no less!

There are a few other presentational concerns to ponder which you can divine through the interpretation of your piece. Tempo of turns, gestures to make mid turn, facials to accompany the turn, etc. Remember to keep acting/presenting during the turn to keep hold of your audience and thus integrate the turn into your performance. It is up to you to make a turn noticeable or seamless, but it should never be boring or obviously a break from the piece. You also want to consider what and how much of the reading you place on each page so that the turns act as transitions to help pacing and flow, and not act as a necessity which takes away from the performance. Think about where breaks are important—-usually with new information, a realization, change of topic, or anything that is novel. By breaking up your piece appropriately, you make the turns serve more as a natural transition/pace regulator that you can utilize and capitalize on, rather than a mere awkward turn.

Thinking over turns and how to use them can be a nit-picky, detail-oriented task. Yet, as your performance improves and the season draws near an end, it is in the details where ranks are made. Plan them out and see your piece become extraordinary.

Prose and Poetry "Reading"

If you are involved in either Prose or Poetry then you have the distinct honor of being adorned with a handsome, black binder during your performance. It is because of that binder Prose and Poetry are often paired with "Reading" in the event's title; or perhaps it is the other way around? Regardless, it does not hide the concept of the performer "reading" to their audience. The binder takes care of that. It is meant to represent a book. Though, anyone who has seen Prose or Poetry knows what a farce the "reading" aspect is. The Reader hides the lie of memorization while pretending to be "reading" the story afresh. How splendid! A formality that must be paid or ranks can be lost for it is Prose/Poetry Reading. Fortunately faking is easy.

1. Plan when you look down. Like everything in Prose and Poetry, the act of "reading" needs to be planned. Without having muscle memory tell you to glance down you risk not "reading" your piece to the audience. Make it a part of your performance to avoid a silly mark down for not "reading" the story inked on your heart.

2. Glances per page ratio. If you are indeed "reading" the story to your audience, glancing once at the page per page turn is not fitting. How many lines are on the page will determine your glace ratio. On average, a glance every few sentences is what is required. Obviously, spend more time directed towards the audience then the book.

3. Length. When "reading" your Prose or Poetry a few seconds per glance is sufficient. It is enough time to look like "reading" yet does not keep your eyes away from where they should be--the audience.

4. Maximize effect. Use "reading" to your advantage. If there is a moment you character is overwhelmed and would need to "hide" that can be accomplished by "reading" and looking into the book. Even a pause while looking at the book after some "reading" can be effective when appropriate. It is subtle, but it definitely gets the point across of the character being insecure, etc. If you want to shock your audience with a sudden mood change or epiphany try having your character "read" and then look up with whatever change it is you wish to show. Experiment. These are only ideas.

5. DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE IN THE BOOK. People still need to see your face as you "read" because you are still interpreting. Stand erect, hold your book at a comfortable height (and not held flat but cradled in your hand), and use your eyes to "read," not your whole face.

You see? "Reading" can be used to improve your piece and add layers of detail to your performance! These mandatory eye maneuvers seem silly and pointless at first, but they do provide atmosphere to Prose and Poetry Interpretation. Not only does it give the appearance of an old-fashioned read aloud, it also can be capitalized upon for your benefit. Take five, plan some cool "reading" spots/effects, and PRACTICE!!!

How To Maneuver Your Prose or Poetry Book

There are some who look at a requirement for an event and see it as crippling. There are others that see it as an opportunity. Prose and Poetry Interpretation's item of debilitating, or enhancing, nature is the book all Interpreters must use for the events. To a limited performer the binder can turn one arm into stone; to another it provides a unique way to tell a story.

--Your arm CAN move. Believe it or not, a Prose or Poetry Interpreter who is holding their book CAN use the arm which holds the binder. Shocking, but true. Do not assume because that arm is being used to hold something that it must remain at a fixed location. It cannot shift around too much or risk looking peculiar, but pretending it is a missing arm of the Venus de Milo is not the solution.

--Cradle your book. Before you can do any motion with your holding hand you need to have a firm grip so your Poetry or Prose binder will not fall and go SLAT! Hold the spine near the bottom at a comfortable "V" shape. Support the cover pointed towards the audience with your fingers; support the cover pointed towards you with your thumb. To add extra support the cover pointing towards you can be nestled in the crease of your elbow--or roundabouts--at times you are moving that arm around.

--Extend out. If you have a a very large gesture that would look best with both arms do it. Extending your book away from your body creates massive space. Not only are you open but the extra matter of the binder adds visual weight and makes the gesture look larger. Use sparingly because this is such a WOW! factor gesture.

--Hug your book. Sometimes you might want to give the impression of drawing into yourself and hiding. Or you might want to look like you are fond of an item/moment/person/etc. and wish to embrace that moment lovingly. Cradling your Prose or Poetry binder close to you in a hug like gesture is a perfect method to accomplish this goal; again, to be used sparingly. Pair with the right facial expression and "The Hug" can achieve many atmospheres. For an extra touch, take your gesturing hand and place it on your binder to fully close the space and show fondness or closing yourself off. Side note, many Prose and Poetry Readers naturally hold their book in a dominate hand with the gesture hand grasping the opposite cover (the side from where you turn pages) to avoid a dead, hanging arm waiting to gesture.

--Levels. Your binder can also move up and down in elevation. NEVER block your face. Try to keep the book at one constant level throughout, but if there is something in the interpretation that cries for a gesture of varying height do attempt.

It must be noted that a Prose or Poetry book is NEVER to be used as prop. That would be completely against protocol and result in lose of rank. However, taking advantage of a natural extension of your hand is not wrong. In fact, it adds depth to a performance. Embrace the Prose and Poetry binder. Make it a part of yourself. The more comfortable you are with your book the better your performance will be.

Prose READING; Not DI With A Book

Prose Reading is an odd event. On one side you are to interpret the piece through creating multiple character voices and with subtle pops. On the other you hold a book you are to "read" from and present a reading of the text. Many consider Prose an acting event, yet elements that define the event restrain it from ever becoming like Dramatic Interpretation. Prose is almost a half-way point between Interpretation events and Speaking ones as there is "more" consideration to presentation than in something like HI (presentational performance due to the binder). You want to perform without bordering on HI/DI or your rank is in jeopardy. Here's how:

--It's NOT a full-out Interp. Prose might require you interpret a piece of literature, but that does not mean it is a full-out Interpretation event. There is a difference between Prose and Humorous Interpretation's performance styles. Prose is literally a better version of someone reading out-loud to you. HI/DI is almost a one-person show. Get the distinction and the rest will be simple.

--Narrator. People that tend to turn a Prose into a Dramatic Interp are the ones who forget the role of narrator. Prose should have one main voice with a few secondary parts that might share time but hardly steal. That's the fun of Prose! As it is a selection of literature the audience is transported into the world of the novel or short story where internal dialogue is rampant. The reader usually learns about the story's world through the eyes of a narrator. Prose reading is about using that charm to tell a story. A cutting that has far too many characters, or mostly back-and-forth dialogue, can swiftly turn into a DI/HI. But with a black book.

--READ. Prose is to have the appearance of a story being read and not one of a memorized piece. If you rolled your eyes that is not completely wrong. It is funny to pretend to be reading a story when everyone knows you're not. HOWEVER, this is one of the distinctions that separate it from an Interpretation. If you want to use a book, or pretend to be in a reader's theatre, then perhaps Prose is your event. Otherwise, try HI. Everyone is allowed their quirks. Old-fashioned storytelling may be yours.

--Voice over body. One of the fastest ways to de-Prose your performance is to let popping and use of physicality sabotage your piece. DO alter yourself a bit for different characters. Changing your posture, maybe something with your gesturing arm/hand, and perhaps where you look are good subtle changes. Once you start adding details with your feet and legs you are bordering on entering DI with a book. Keep character changes simple and slight in terms of the body. The voice however is critical. Your voice and skill in interpreting a story vocally is where most of the judging occurs. If you have multiple characters do analysis of the entire text and begin to develop a character. Everyone should have their own voice with accurately reflects the text.

This can be a nit-picky detail for Prose Reading. Most people respect the boundaries and act appropriately. Yet, there are the few who take a Dramatic Interpretation, toss in a binder, and call it Prose. Avoid this habit! Hopefully this will deter you from using a piece not suitable for the event.

Prose: Sticking Out

If you were to sit through three rounds of Prose Reading there are a few consistencies you might observe. One might be the somewhat hilarious attempt to appear to be reading when everyone in the room knows the piece is memorized. Alright, that is not really "hilarious;" in fact when done well it becomes apart of the performance and is hardly noticed. The other might the type of selections chosen for the event. Prose often becomes dominated by very intense, very dramatic, choking sort of stories. It is not unknown that there is an idea that drama is harder than comedy. This writer is not hear to debate this philosophy (though, personal opinion concludes both are challenging for their own, individual reasons). Just let it be stated that most Prose readers select a straight-up drama as a piece in hopes of displaying their skills and emotionally moving the judge/audience to love their performance.

HOWEVER, your humble writer firmly endorses the use of a comedy-drama hybrid; a dramedy if you will. Here is why:

1. THIS will show your range. Dramas and Comedies both have a listing of particular skills required to shine within that respective genre. Comedy involves timing and a willingness to fully embrace playing a fool. Drama takes the ability to push yourself to mental extremes of sorrow while not letting yourself become a melodrama. Both however can be summed up as an actor's dedication to playing an action. That's all it ever is--you playing out an action to achieve a want. Also, both genres use their lead in a way to teach the audience a message--comedy through laughter, drama through catharsis. Anyway, if both genres serve generally the same purpose (this is a generalization because there ARE distinct differences) then why not use the two genres together to show your range? If an actor can make you cry and laugh within a few minutes that is impressive. So try it.

2. More engrossing. 8-10 minutes of straight comedy and drama is tiring. Period. Full-out comedy can be hilarious, but could leave the audience wanting a purpose. All drama is mentally exhausting. Finding a balance between the two is an excellent way to keep your audience engaged with your Prose selection. Not only are you offering some jokes to keep the mood light and draw in your crowd, you also give them the sustenance they want and deserve.

3. Stand out. As stated earlier, many Prose readers choose pieces based on whether or not it can get the audience to cry. If so many people are trying to find tear-jerker dramas then why join them? Being a sheep will not get you noticed. It must be noted that truly exceptional dramatists can select a moving, difficult drama and succeed. But that is because they are masters. For most of us, this writer included, selecting a piece that is unique for it's story and use of comedy and drama can give you the edge to be remembered among the forest of sappy pieces and drama professionals.

4. Use your skills. Some people are prone to excel in either comedy or drama. To exclude yourself from using your deadpan delivery for the sake of drama conformity is ludicrous. Know what areas of performing you are good at. Test and challenge yourself in new ways. EXPAND YOUR ABILITIES! This is the only way to improve as a performer while capitalizing on what you can do.

Hopefully this list of reasons has convinced you of the benefits of being different. Not only do you help your Prose but you help yourself. And genre mixing does not have to stop with the blending of comedy and drama. Horror and mystery stories have been used in Prose Reading as well. These can work if the story is strong enough and possess enough dramatic elements. Theoretically, ANY genre can work as long as it makes for a fantastic 8-10 cutting. Experiment. Note, the mix doesn't necessarily need to be 50-50, just with some variation! There had to have been a reason why Prose requires two pieces to be used during tournaments. One for consistent break-pieces, the other for chances like this where daring to be "weird" may pay off.

Is this Poetry or Prose?

This question has been posed to me quite a few times in my experience with forensics, so if this thought has ever formed in your mind you are not the originator. If you are new to forensics, and have a creative mind, you may have already realized that genre bending adds a unique twist to your piece. For example, a selection that has a few meters of song can help elevate you above other performances just because you are daring. Yet, not all blending of Prose and Poetry is welcome or necessary.

Traditionally there is a clear answer to this query. If you are performing verse you would compete in Poetry; anything non-verse would be Prose. Reflecting back on my years competing in Illinois’ speech circuit (with the Illinois High School Association establishing rules), I recall there were certain materials permissible for Prose and Poetry. Prose detailed that source material could only be of printed works from novels, biographies, short-stories, letters, and non-fiction. There was also a rule that only 50% of your piece could be dialogue. Poetry was more open-ended on what was allowed, but all selections had to be from printed material. Basically Poetry was anything being of verse. Most Poetry pieces would be found from poems or song lyrics. (Although the above information is directly related to rules in Illinois ( this does not lessen the merit of them applying to the majority of forensic leagues across the Nation).

Even with knowing where to get pieces from, this still does not answer at what degree a poem become prose, or vice versa. I could not find a percentage listed in any rule book. That leaves any decision to human judgment. And with human judgment there comes human error. My suggestion would be that if you have to question whether or not a piece is Poetry or Prose either make a decision and see what coaches and judges say or do not do the piece. Poetry and Prose should be clear cut and fit into their categories distinctively. I understand modern writers like to test the boundaries of tradition and form, but this cannot be done in a speech round. Regulation is needed to have fair judging. Sorry.

If you find yourself reading a piece and loving it, yet unable to decipher if it should be a Prose or Poetry selection ask yourself this: which does it contain more of? And do not be fooled by blank verse looking like Prose. Once you find this answer you will find what category you should compete in. If you still cannot, nor anyone else, abandon the piece and admire it as art.

Further questions to ponder are if the blending of Prose and Poetry is necessary. Does it add anything to the piece or does it inhibit? Are you trying to find a piece that is different just so you can be labeled ‘edgy’ or ‘distinctive’? Sorry, but if the piece stinks no amount of ingenuity can save you. Select a work because it truly is fantastic and worth everyone’s time.

Ultimately, all decisions lie with you. Choose carefully and make a judgment you can defend. Because if you are performing a piece that judges deem Poetry, yet you call Prose, your rank WILL be at jeopardy even if you stuck all the landings. You need to justify to yourself that you did what you thought best because no one else will care. Unfortunately, this most likely will be the end of that Poetry as Prose, but at least you will have your integrity intact and be able to move forward.


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