Tips & Advice From Demond Wilson
The Heart of a Champion or How to Win No Matter What!!
With so many obstacles to overcome “lay judges,” protests over literature, late nights, huge expenses, not to mention bad tournament food, most people in there right mind ask the question, why would anyone do this activity called Forensics? Despite all of the trials and tribulations of tournaments, being a competitor and teacher in this activity is the most rewarding experience of my life. The skills that I learned over years and shared with students have helped students and me to become a champion, and to win no matter what. Hopefully these tips will help you in your journey.
First, figure out why you are doing this activity. You must have a passion for performance, hard work, literature, and storytelling. Judges and rounds are unpredictable. I have seen bad competitors win and great competitors not break out of prelims. As a result, rankings do not and should not determine your mark of success. At a speech tournament, as in life, anything is possible. I have found that when students stop competing with each other and instead compete within themselves to be better, students free up their bodies and minds to create powerful performances in front of an audience without fear or tension.
Second, every round in a tournament is an opportunity to learn. Keep your eyes, ears and hearts open to other competitors. You will find that the more you watch and learn from others the better competitor you will be.
Third, this is a contest about communication so you must learn the skill and art of telling a story. All of the events that happen to the character change them throughout the selection.
Your character can not be the same person at the end of the performance as they were in the beginning.
Fourth, work hard and practice so that your rehearsing is done during the week and not at a tournament in front of a judge. Remember, preparation breeds confidence, confidence produces success.
Since winning nationals myself 1991 in Dramatic Interpretation, I have been blessed with helping to coach the 1996 HI Champion, 1997 DI Champion, 2000 DI Champion, 2002 Prose Champion, 2003 DI Champion and 2004 DI Champion. All of theses students had the heart of a champion. The students kept this activity in perspective. They competed against themselves and although they did not win every tournament, they won, no matter what!
I hope that your season helps you to find the heart of a champion. It will carry you far in tournaments, but more importantly, in life!!
Demond Wilson, The Perfect Performance
“Before you get too involved, always run a background check!”
It is important to know as much about your character as you know about yourself. In working students across the country, I find that many students are not analyzing their characters. Without understanding your character, inside and out, you will never be able to be successful in acting.
Top four indicators to know if a background check applies to you:
If your voice, body stance, vocal pattern, tempo, and physical characteristics, all resemble the actor that is presenting a selection, you need to run a background check! If you don’t know these answers videotape yourself and see.
If who you are in the introduction resembles who you are when you perform, you need to run a background check.
If all you have done is thought about your character without any research, reading the play, or writing anything down, 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 it is because you need to run a back ground 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 their history, it is very difficult to break out of bad habits.
Below are samples of questions to start with. I hope you find them useful on your journey:
1. Full name of character
2. Exact age of character
3. Height (how tall do you see character; not how tall are you):
5. Hair and eye color
6. Does this character have any special physical traits? (I.e. a limp, arthritis, disease, etc.):
7. Walk and Demeanor (manner of walk, sitting, overall carrying of self):
8. Posture (stands straight or slumped)
9. Physical Habits (i.e. biting fingernails, keeping a musical “beat” with hands, etc.)
10. Gestures (inward, outward, small, large, etc.)
11. What is your character life goal?
12. Family Background? How did it affect the character?
13. Where are they located? How do they feel about their location?
14 What is their relationship like with other people in the play?
15. Who is your character talking to? Where are they located?
16. Do a collage from magazines that include (what your character may look like, what they wear, what they eat, important items to the character, where they live…etc,)
17. 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 understand. Enjoy the process!!!
The Text, The TEXT, THE TEXT!!!!!!!!!/or Learning how to read a play.
I learned a lesson while attending SMU that I will never forget. A wonderful professor by the name of Cecil O’Neil taught us how to read a text. There is in fact meaning in the punctuation and text that if you know how to look for it. Knowing how to read text will improve your performances a hundred fold. Here are some helpful hints/tools to look for when you are reading a play as an actor:
The text for an actor is like sheet music to a musician. The text has when scored properly and analyzed correctly gives the actor all the clues s/he needs to create characters.
- Students should read an entire play first.
- Look up any and all words you do not understand
- Look at the punctuation that the author has put into the script for your character.
- “,” Commas mean take a breath. It also means that what ever came before the comma and what is after the comma must be different. Commas also could mean that a list is coming. See below for an explanation of a list.
- “.” Periods mean pause or possible change of thought. Thus your inflection must be different each time your character changes thought.
- “…” Means that the character is unsure.
- “-“What ever follows a dash is very important to the character or it is an interruption.
- “:” Colon usually means that a list is coming. If you character has a list of repeated words or phrases regardless of a colon or not each item in the list must be different. Example: I wish that someone would hold me, I wish that life were easy, I wish that we could get married. Each I wish and what follows it must build, or get softer or be said in a different way. Colons can also mean that what follows is very important to the character.
- “!”Means that the character is excited, angry or emotional.
- “?” Means that they are questioning someone. In other words your pitch must go up at the end of your sentence for the audience to know that you are asking a question.
- Look at the lengths of the line. If a character speaks for several sentences without taking a “.” pause then they are trying to be heard, or nervous.
- The shorter the lines back and forth the more emotional anger or tension in the scene is building.
How I Won Nationals in Dramatic Interpretation
Just Click Your Heels.
A very dear friend of mine told me “Forensics creates strange bed fellows.” The older I get, the more I realize the truth in this statement. Because competition is at the heart of what we do in Forensics, Theatre, most importantly, in life, it is interesting how the word, competition, affects different people.
I have found that coaches and students alike compare themselves unfairly to others and as a result a lot of venom and unnessasary politics arise in our activity.
It concerns me when I hear that teachers are retiring or leaving the business and the program that they left either does not have a replacement. It concerns me when the few new teachers that decide they to want to forgo their personal lives in order to serve kids find themselves being unwelcomed by coaches that have been in the business for years.
I hate to hear, that students find themselves in HI/DUO rooms that people refuse to laugh or enjoy everyone’s performance equally because it may give someone the upper hand.
Yet I have lived it myself as a competitior, as a coach and now as a business owner. It is true that “success breeds comtempt” but my question is why?
Well…to solve this deliema we need remember the lesson from the musical The Wizard of Oz or what I grew watching, The Wiz. In The Wiz, all of the characters believed that they would be whole if they had what others have. Each character finds themselves paralyzed by the concept that grass is greener on the side of the fence. The characters find themselves seeking “The Wiz” or the magic bullet that will make them as good as or better than other competitiors.
The characters discover, however, that the wiz is not real and is just as afraid as they are of the world around them. They also discover that what they were seeking outside of themselves they already had it within.
I am not saying that watching other people in order to improve on your performance is a bad thing. You should watch others in order help better yourself. It is unhealthy however to continue your own uniqueness in order to figure what you do well. Ask yourself, what is unique about you. What voices can you do, singing ability, physical stances, experiences you have had, nationality, gender, etc… It is within you to be a champion if you focus more on your abilities and gifts.
When you do not focus on your abilities you will find yourself always chasing the thing that you want rather than possessing it. I won NFL National Championship in Dramatic Interpretation because I was obessed with learning more about my character Paul Robeson. The more I learned about Paul Robeson the more I learned about myself.
Right before the final round my mother and my coach asked me “how can you be so calm at a time like this?” My response was “I am so excited to get up there and share my story with the audience and show everyone what I have learned.”
You become dangerous as a competitor when competition with others is not the key focus. Instead you compete with yourself to see how much better you can be round by round/ contest by contest. It will serve you well in tournaments and life.
Mid Season Blues…or…After the love is gone??
Most of you all have been performing your selections and practicing until you are blue in the face. That perfect piece that you loved, and could not wait to perform, can, around this time of the year, get boring to you. You may have found that your tournament record is beginning to reflect how tired you have become of your selection. Before you toss the script and start anew, I have put together a five step program that can help you get over a bad case of the MID SEASON BLUES.
To bring your piece back to life and make the second half of your season even better than the first half, here are five helpful hints:
Re-read your entire script again. You would be surprised how refreshing yourself on the complete story, begins to remind you of why you fell in love with the selection in the first place. In addition, you may find lines or scenes that you can put into your cutting that will substitute for other parts of your text that are not working.
If you are performing a Bust A Cut, please read that article to know what that is, then the first suggestion will not help you because you are probably doing the whole play now.
In any case, Bust A Cut, Bust A Novel, Bust A Play, Bust A Film, or wherever your cutting came from, you should practice the piece using different styles. Do it as a comedy, drama, cheerleader, preacher, salesman, old person, young child etc… Try singing the piece as well. By doing it in this way you are breaking out of your old habits and you will be shocked, if you commit to it, what new things you discover about your piece and your performance.
Speaking of discoveries, don’t forget to buy a copy of the book Audition by Michael Shurtleffe and read the chapter on discoveries. He talks about this very issue in detail and offers up more great tips.
My final tip, and the best tip I have, is to make sure that you break your piece down into events/beats. I will be writing an article about this soon but if you can not wait again in the Shurtleffe book he talks about Find Your Events. Judges are voting for students who surprise them, moment by moment, in their performance. In other words, if you know that someone is about to die, do not play the moment until you get there. One of the reasons that you a struggling with your performance are a direct result of knowing how your piece ends. Instead of working your way to the ending, as you did when you first got the piece, you are playing the ending from the beginning. Tape your performance and see if I am wrong.
Best of luck to everyone and I hope to see you in Vegas. Please let me know if these tips are helping you!! Demond Wilson, The Perfect Performance
Momma was right: “It’s Not WHAT You Say, But HOW You Say It!”
After working with students across the country this year I am on mission to help all competitors find clarity in telling their stories to an audience. Often times I watch a performance and by the end I think, “Okay…what happened…everything that the student said sounded the same??!!” Below is a lesson in scoring your text. By scoring your text, and following the road map that you create, you are able to help the audience follow exactly what you are saying:
Students should circle an operative word or phrase per sentence. An operative word is the one word that we must hear in a sentence in order for the sentence and the next sentence to make sense. The operative words in a performance are key to an audience understanding what is happening in a story and for an 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 the midst of a sea of black. In other words, in a sentence the words around the operative word are the shading or background; while the operative word is the point or focus of the sentence. Without an operative word everything sounds the same to the audience. Remember the best story teller wins the round!!
Example: The Lion King-The operative words are in bold and underlined.
Mufasa: 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 students should slightly stress the operative word apart from the other words in the sentence.