Dramatic and Humorous Interpretation for Speech Contest: Analyzing Characters and Scoring Text

Do you ever watch a speech competition and ask yourself, “Okay, what happened in that performance? Everything the student said sounded the same!” If you want to avoid that reaction to your own performance, you can. By analyzing your characters, scoring your text, and following the road map you create, you will be able to help the audience follow exactly what you are saying. You won’t leave them wondering what happened!

It is important to know as much about your character as you know about yourself. Without understanding your character, you will never be successful in acting. So be sure to run a “background check.”

How to know if you need more character analysis, or background check:

  • If your voice, body stance, vocal pattern, tempo, and physical characteristics all resemble yourself, you need to run a background check.
  • If you don’t know, videotape yourself and see.If who you are in the introduction resembles who you are during the performance, you need to run a background check.
  • If all you have done is thought about your character without any research, thorough reading and rereading of the play, or making notes, you need to run a background check.
  • If your ranks are getting worse as the year progresses, or you can’t seem to get above a 3 in rounds, perhaps you need to run a background check.

Give your characters life story as much respect as you would your own. Relentlessly analyzing your characters throughout the year will keep your selections fresh and moving forward. Keep in mind that you need to do the analysis before you start working on the performance. Perfect practice makes the perfect performance. Once you begin to portray a character without knowing the character’s history, it is difficult to break bad habits you’ve established in rehearsal.

Below are samples of questions to start with:

  • Full name of character?
  • Exact age of character?
  • Height and weight?
  • Hair and eye color?
  • Special physical traits? (i.e. a limp, arthritis, disease, etc.)
  • Walk and demeanor? (manner of walk, sitting, overall carriage)
  • Posture?
  • Physical habits? (i.e. biting fingernails, keeping a musical beat with hands, etc.)
  • Gestures? (inward, outward, small, large, etc.)
  • Life goal?
  • Family background? How did it affect the character?
  • Where does the character live? How does the character feel about that location?
  • What is the character’s relationship to other characters in the play?
  • Who is your character talking to? Where is that person?

Do a collage from magazines that includes: what your character might look like, what the character wears, eats, items of importance to the character, where the character lives, etc.

What was happening in the world that affected your character’s perspective of themselves and the world around them?

Doing character analysis should be fun as you are exploring the life of someone else. You get to play yourself everyday. Use your time acting to explore another life and world that you do not know. Enjoy the process.

Scoring a script is what helps the audience understand what’s happening. Go through your script and circle one operative word or phrase per sentence. An operative word is the one word that we must hear in a sentence in order for that sentence and the next sentence to make sense. Knowing the operative words in a performance is necessary for the actor to fully bring action to the text. Think of the operative word like looking at a painting: the operative word is the red dot in a sea of black. In other words, the words in a sentence around the operative word are shading and background, while the operative word is the point of focus for the sentence. Without the operative word everything sounds the same to the audience. Remember the best storyteller wins the round!

Example: The Lion King

Mufusa: Simba! Simba, I’m very disappointed in you.

Simba: I know. I’m sorry.

Mufasa: You could have been killed! And what’s worse, you put Nala in danger!

Simba: I was just trying to be brave, like you.

Mufasa: I’m only brave when I have to be, Simba…

If the operative words are read by themselves, they give an idea of what’s happening on their own. In the performance, you want to slightly stress the operative word apart from the other words in the sentence. Of course, you must carefully read through the script many times to be sure of the operative words. The better you understand the script and your character, the better your audience will.


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