Humorous Interpretation (HI)
Using a play, short story, or other published work, students perform a selection of one or more portions of a piece up to ten minutes in length. Humorous Interpretation is designed to test a student’s comedic skills through script analysis, delivery, timing, and character development. Competitors may portray one or multiple characters. No props or costumes may be used. Performances can also include an introduction written by the student to contextualize the performance and state the title and author.
Considerations for Selecting HI Literature:
When searching for literature, a student should look for more than one-liner jokes. Humor can be created through strategic choreography, creative characterization, and dynamic non-verbal reactions. Typical selection topics range from light-hearted material including interpretations of comics, children’s literature, plays, short stories, and more. Considerations for selecting an HI topic should include the student’s age, maturity, and school standards.
Traits of Successful HI Performers:
When considering what event you should choose, or which direction to point a student when selecting an event, here are some traits of successful HI-ers to keep in mind...
- Physical control
- Bold/ high energy
- Ability to think outside the box
- Dynamic physical and vocal techniques
- Risk- taker
Humorous Interpretation, as its name indicates, is humorous. Competitors often use multi-character selections to tell relatable stories using humor as a device to connect with the audience. Think about your favorite comedian’s latest stand up routine, or something funny that recently happened. Ask yourself why it’s funny. Then ask yourself if that joke would be funny to, say, your mom, or great-great Uncle Joe. Humor is a complex human quirk. Each individual’s sense of humor is unique. However, other aspects of humor are more universal in nature. So, when choosing an HI, it is imperative to consider not only the humorous elements of the selection, but also to keep in mind how the story itself will appeal to the audience. Not everyone will laugh at the same joke, but if a character’s plight is relatable, the audience will identify with him or her. Humor in a Humorous Interpretation should be tasteful and motivated.
Finding an HI that’s right for you may seem a little daunting. Go to your local library, visit the biographies section of a bookstore, or visit Play Scripts, Dramatists, or Samuel French online. These are just a few of the places you may nd material. There are a few things to keep in mind when questing for a script.
Strengths and Limitations:
HI often requires a performer to manipulate their voice, move quickly in and out of di erent characters, and have a strong sense of comedic timing. Think about your vocal register when looking at a cutting. Would you be required to play characters with voices in your upper register? What characters would be played using your lower register? How many ways can you manipulate your voice? How well can you manipulate your body and facial expression to create distinct, unique characters? If you have limited physical or vocal control, it might be bene cial to chose a selection with fewer characters. Think about your abilities outside of acting: can you sing, dance, stand on your head? Could those skills be utilized in your performance? Be aware of how you can showcase your unique skill set.
What makes you laugh? This is your piece, your performance, and your interpretation. Find writing you think is hilarious. If it makes you laugh, and you enjoy performing it, then your audience will enjoy it, too.
Is it honest? Is it relatable? Pick a piece with meaning. As performers, we not only look to entertain our audience, but to engage them in meaningful communication through performance.
Structure of an Interp (taken from Interpretation of Literature, Bringing Words to Life).
TEASER • 0:00 – 1:30 Previews the topic and mood of the selection
INTRO • 1:30 – 3:00 Explains the purpose of the performance
EXPOSITION • 3:00 – 3:30 Introduces characters and setting
INCITING INCIDENT • 3:30 – 4:00 Sends the conflict into motion
RISING ACTION • 4:00 – 7:30 Complicates the con ict
CLIMAX • 7:30 – 8:30 Emotional peak of the performance
FALLING ACTION • 8:30 – 9:30 Resolves the conflict
You only have ten minutes in an HI to tell a story and make an audience laugh. Pick your moments accordingly. Decide what jokes you want to play up, and what parts of your story will contrast the humorous moments. As you finalize your cutting, read it aloud to help make informed decisions about characterization and blocking. Beat out your script. This means reading the script aloud and making notes as you go. As you read aloud, use symbols to indicate shorter pauses “/” or longer pauses “//.” Consider the emotionality behind each line. Ask yourself what the motivation for the characters’ actions are. Use this to in uence blocking choices. Make sure your choices are not just funny for the sake of funny, but make sense contextually in your script. Make sure you are listening for the reactions of the characters to the lines that came before. If you are doing a multi-character performance, remember that this is a dialogue, and should be treated as such.
Standing it Up/Practicing:
Often, you’ll find that if you’ve spent the appropriate amount of time reading, cutting, and analyzing a script, memorization will be an easier process. Here are some things to keep in mind, to help simplify the process:
First, our brains are a muscle. The more time you practice memorizing, or simply memorize things, the better
you become. Often, performers, take more time in the beginning of a season to commit a script to memory than they do at the end of the competitive season. Memorizing is a process.
Next, memorization is physical. Sitting down staring at
a script, re-reading the lines in your head will not be beneficial. Memorize the script with the intent to perform it. Type up a clean version with only your nalized text and blocking. Then, tape it to the wall and actively memorize. Read the lines aloud moving with them as indicated by your cutting. It is helpful to memorize a scene at a time, building o of the scene that came before. Remember that dialogue is motivated by the line that came before it. Everything is a response, or reaction. Conceptualize your script this way to decrease the time it takes to memorize your performance.
As you develop a physical sense of the piece, consider how you will express ideas without words. Much of communication is nonverbal; therefore, it makes sense that some of the funniest aspects of an HI are the non- verbal reactions of characters to the events happening in the performance.
Once memorized, you and your coach can then build off of the choices you’ve made for your characters. Adjustments to blocking, characterization, and line delivery can be made. Often, standing up in front of a coach will help determine whether or not your jokes are landing, or getting a reaction from the audience. Practicing in front of a mirror or videotaping your performance is also a great way to ‘see’ what the audience sees when you perform. Play with characters. HI is all about experimenting with what makes your audience laugh. Don’t be afraid to act ridiculous to get a laugh. Try something new until you get the desired reaction, and then solidify the joke through practice.
It may sound cliche, but confidence is key! If you’ve put the legwork in, you should feel con dent in the product you’ve created. Walk into that round with your head held high, ready to show the world what you’ve got! Trust what you and your coach created. Do what you practiced, and if you feel compelled to “try something new,” review it with your coach beforehand. Consistency is also vital. It’s hard to evaluate what to change in practice if your performance in the round is completely different than what you’ve been working on for the past few weeks. Pay attention to other performers. Smile, and be a warm, inviting audience member. There is nothing worse than getting up to perform and having an audience that either stone faces you or won’t look you in the eye. Each round is 60 minutes. Ten of those involve you performing, the other 50 are for you to listen and learn.
Keep a notebook for between rounds. Sometimes, another person’s performance will inspire you, and it’s a good idea to have a notebook handy to write down new ideas. When you review your ballots after the tournament, you can go back through your notebook and compare your ballots to your notes.
Between rounds, figure out what room you will be performing in next. Congratulate your competitors on a good performance after the round ends, and make friends during downtime. Be gracious, and keep criticisms of other performers to yourself, even if someone else tries to start a negative conversation.
A great source is Interpretation of Literature—Bringing Words to Life by Travis Kiger and Ganer Newman. They cover cutting, characterization, blocking, and the structure of a story. Additionally, if this is your rst time doing Humorous Interpretation, go watch a nal round of HI! Observe the rounds not only as entertainment, but keep your eyes peeled for e ective cutting, characterization, and blocking. Ask yourself, how can I apply similar techniques to my performance? How can I build o of what this performer is doing? The best way to learn HI, outside of actively doing it, is by watching and learning from other performers.