Oral Interpretation 

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Brief Overview

Oral Interpretation, or 'OI' as it's usually known on the circuit is a combination of two different kinds of events. Prose and Poetry are both used in this event - but not at the same time. Each student competing in OI are required to have a full prepared poetry piece AND a full prepared prose piece. 

Judging Criteria

When judges look at an OI they are sussing out how well a student delivers the MESSAGE of a piece. Many times a student gets caught up in the story of a piece, forgetting that, as a communication event, this is like all other events in the fact that it's about the message. 

Judges will make comments on some of the surface items: volume, eye contact, and  stance, but they will also comment on things that are not as easily visible: depth of character, strength of message, and flow of language. Many will also comment on the blocking (see below) and the cohesiveness of the performance. 

In Depth Approach

The Cutting 

Because very few prose and poetry pieces are exactly 6 - 10 minutes long, the portion that is performed is called the cutting, referring to the fact that the piece has been cut down shorter from its original length. The cutting of a performance is immensely important. While you're cutting, there are few things you need to pay attention to. 

  • The length. Going over time is the easiest way a judge distinguishes students. If a judge has two outstanding performances in a room, and you're one of them, don't make it an easy choice by going over time! Make sure you're not going to go over time, even in a room that is laughing at you, or if you have an epiphany and add another dramatic pause. in some rules there is a 30 second grace period for OI. This does NOT mean that your time limit is 10:30. You still need to focus on that 10 minute mark. The 30 second grace period is actually built in for audience participation. That way, if you get a lot of laughs, you're still within the grace period. 
  • The message. This is the central component to your performance. You need to decide your cutting not just based on how cool you think the story is, but how cool you think the message the story is telling is. Keeping in mind the message while you're cutting means that you're going to come out on tournament day with a well thought out, fully formed message embedded fully into your performance. This is the component that separates out the national finalists.  
  • The levels. You don't want a cutting that is all sad or all funny. Even if you're going for a fully serious piece, making sure there is a line or two in which your audience gets to smile is a great way to keep everyone focused on your performance. Or vice versa. You want to have levels, show depth, and use those tools to present the strongest piece. 

The Performance 

As you finish your cutting, there are many components to the performance that are important . 

  • The Blocking. The blocking is the way that a performer enhances the performance with movement. This is the physical component that separates out the creative. Blocking is tricky, as it needs to be clear what the performer is doing. With that end, the blocking can't be too complicated, as this will both confuse the audience and distract from the goal of the piece. Most of the best blocking isn't written right into the piece, its found through practice and performance. The blocking brings a new layer of a visual component to the performance. 
  • Vocals. The vocals might seem like the easiest part of a performance - many competitors think they are just speaking. But the vocals are a key component to the performance. Vocals embody not just how loud you are, but the accent, age, and strength of a character. Think about your own tonality and vocal patterns. Those are not necessarily the same as your characters. Make your performance the strongest it can be. 
  • Book Work. This might feel redundant, like the book is part of blocking. And, in some ways it is. The book can be a great addition to blocking. But, it is also something totally its own. Turning the pages in tone with your performance adds a component that keeps your audience (and your judge) linked in to what you're saying. 

End Game and Extras

Character Analysis - This is a document that can help as a tool you come back to over the course of the year. Use this document in the beginning - helping you analyze how to approach your interpretation. Then, use it again a few months later. See how your answers have changed. 

How to Write an Intro - This doc will help you focus your intro writing. Use it to make sure you're on the right track. 

Keeping it Fresh - Sometimes, when we've done a piece for a while, it can start to feel a little stale. Here are some exercises to help keep those pieces exciting!