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  • Chris Wilkins


The last article I wrote was about something I think a lot of people are missing from their pieces. Well I’ve thought of another that is missing! A skill that I believe is very important to have in interp is the ability to adapt—especially with duos. Too many people practice their piece to be done one specific way and don’t leave any room for changes. They don’t discuss ways to change their piece for different circumstances relating to room size or judge placement. At a typical high school, the changes don’t need to be too drastic, but in some final rounds or at bigger tournaments—it can make the difference between winning a round and falling in the middle.

As is the case with most articles I write, I like to explain my ideas with stories that emphasize their importance.

When Ryan and I were practicing for nationals we made the mistake of practicing almost exclusively in our school’s theater. We did this for multiple reasons: it taught us to project and commit to the scenes with the highest emotions; it allowed us the largest amount of space to move around and block scenes; we practiced where we wanted to be—on a stage. We learned a lot practicing in a wide-open space, but we made a big mistake that became apparent when we competed at the Catholic National Tournament.

Our duo was way too loud.

The trouble was we didn’t know this; most rooms at CFLs that year were very large. Once we made it out of prelims all out rounds were performed in hotel conference rooms. Ryan and I felt that the louder we went, the more powerful our duo would be. We felt that we needed to push it to fill the room. Ultimately… it would come back and bite us right in the butt.

Every out round we had a judge who loved us, a judge who was okay with us, and a judge who thought we were too loud. By the time we made semis we felt we really had to push it to make finals! This was, in our minds, the round that mattered the most—the round that would get us into finals. All our judges were right in front of us, but we performed our duo to fill the room.

The judges thought that we were too loud, and that we forced the performance. That we were basically yelling in their faces

We went 4-5-6 and didn’t make finals. We even managed to do worse than we did at CFLs the previous year.

We left CFLs confident in our duo, and practiced even harder! We did not, however, change up our strategy. We continued to practice on the stage and pushed to get our duo on an even higher level. We kept it loud as can be!

We kept it that way until Ryan and I were forced to change our duo.

Anyone who competed in Dallas for the 2012 National Tournament knows how frightening the day before the tournament was. We knew we were competing in hotel rooms but I don’t think anyone expected them to be as small as they were. In many ways they were much smaller than classrooms and much less open—very crowded.

Ryan and I were freaking out—like total meltdown freaking out. We had to take a completely different direction with our duo. We had to make our duo quiet and personal—the opposite of what we had been doing. Not only that, we had one night to figure out how.

The funny thing about the small class rooms though—and maybe this is just my opinion—is that they made our duo much better. When we were forced to be quiet our duo became much more personal. It became real. I believe that it was one of the factors that pushed our duo from semis worthy to finals worthy. Competing from round to round Ryan and I eventually decided that quiet was the way to go! We reached semis and were yet again placed in a huge conference rooms. The judges were roughly ten feet away from us, and this time we made the decision to stay quiet even though we were in a huge room. Some people told us that they couldn’t hear us in the semifinal round of competition.

We did that on purpose.

It was a conscious decision we made because we knew it would have the effect we wanted.

Through the whole process I learned something very important about performing—performances need to be adaptable. Don’t just practice your piece to be done a certain way, practice your piece for multiple situations. I’ve performed in what felt like closets, and I’ve performed in theaters. The performance you give in a small room should not be the same performance you give in a huge one. If you’re in a small room, or if your judge is right in front of you, don’t be afraid to speak softly. If you’re performing in a theater… you better project and make things bigger! Where you’re performing should affect the performance you give. That is why it is crucial to be adaptable as a performer—especially in a duo.

When you’re in a duo, you can’t have a loud reaction if your partner decides to take a quiet approach. You have to discuss the direction you’re going to take with your performance before the round even starts. Not only that, you have to listen to each other and react accordingly.

So don’t be afraid to practice in different sized rooms! Don’t be afraid to ask your coach to see things from different locations in the room. As a performer you cannot control what room you get put in, but you can control how you perform in that space. I have seen a person get loud in a small room way too many times. I’ve judged rounds where I could barely hear the person performing. This is why I believe it is very important to know how to adapt!

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