While most of the time in an oral interpretation performance is spent presenting literature, there are a few moments within the performance where the audience members should see you, the performer, guiding their focus toward the significance of your chosen piece(s) and the purpose of your performance.
These performer-authored moments are considered separate from the literature. The performer usually indicates this separation by making sure the literature script(s) is closed and presenting these moments in a memorized fashion or from a separate note card or paper, with direct eye contact toward the audience. These moments are typically written in a straightforward style in the performer’s own voice, and they should sound conversational and be personable in delivery style, much like the performer might naturally sound while delivering a casual speech.
These moments typically take the form of introductions and transitions.
One specific characteristic of oral interpretation is the often-present introduction. This is a brief paragraph written by the performer that is placed toward the beginning of a performance. Its purpose is to impart relevance, connecting the literature and the performance to the audience. Essentially, it tells the audience why the literature and the performance are important and what lesson the audience can learn or theme they can celebrate because of it.
Elements of an Introduction
An oral interp intro generally contains the following elements:
- Attention getter. Also known as a “hook,” this is the very first part of your introduction. It is the first time we are seeing and hearing you when you begin your performance, so it should be something that makes us want to continue to listen. When you deliver this moment, you should exude confidence. There are several techniques you can use as an attention getter:
- Teaser – This is a short segment of the literature that is being performed.
- Question – Get your audience thinking about your performance by asking them something. You can either solicit responses or let it be rhetorical.
- Quote – Similar to the way you might use a famous quote in a speech, you can begin your performance in a similar fashion. Use a quote that relates to the message you have chosen to highlight in your literature.
- Joke – Using humor is an effective attention getter, assuming it is connected to the performance theme somehow.
- Startling research/fact/statistic – Citing your source immediately afterward, you can begin your performance with a relevant piece of information that reveals insight about your literature or your message.
- More! – There are many other sorts of attention getters, from dancing to singing to sign language to foreign language… basically, anything other than, “Hi, my name is _____, and I’m doing (title and author) for you today” can work.
- Title and author. You should clearly state these for each piece of literature that appears in your performance. If an author is unknown, you should say so. If you are using work from a movie or television show, the screenwriter(s) is considered the author. You don’t need to cite illustrators as the words are what you are sharing, not the pictures. You should also be sure to state all authors if there are multiple ones for any particular work.
- Message/moral/relation statement. This is a sentence that tells the audience why they should pay attention for the next several minutes. The statement should include the word “you,” “we,” or “us,” and it should explain the message/theme/moral/lesson of the literature that you discovered through your analysis of the work.
- Personal connection statement. This sentence gives the performance a personal quality and explains to the audience why this particular literature or message/theme is important to you. This statement should include the words “I” or “me.”
- Background information or context (optional). If your literature is a cutting of a larger work or if it is so heavy in rhetorical context that the audience must understand a bit more in order to grasp the meaning of the work you wish to convey, you can provide some brief information to get an audience up to speed. For example, if you are doing chapter 11 of a novel, you may need to explain what has happened in the previous ten chapters or give us background on the main character before beginning your selection.
The order of these elements, except for the attention getter, does not matter. You may even find that you can use the personal connection or relation statement as the attention getter.
Considerations for Writing/Delivering the Introduction
Once you have a rough idea of what you’d like to say in your introduction, you may want to keep the following in mind as you polish it and begin to practice delivering it.
- Ensure that your theme/message/thesis is something relatively universal. It should be something to which many people can relate. This means you should do a good amount of audience analysis before finalizing this theme for your performance. Consider your audience members’ cultures, ages, gender affiliations, socioeconomic statuses, political affiliations, interests, etc.
- Avoid detail about the plot of your piece. Let that develop as you perform. If you must go into plot in your intro, limit it to only one sentence. We want to see societal relevance and a connection to ourselves.
- Be you in the introduction, not a character. The intro should sound more neutral and natural compared to the piece itself. Most of the emotion and feeling in your performance should be demonstrated through the literature, not the intro.
- Remember to either memorize your introduction or use a notecard or paper that is separate from your literature script.
- Aim to limit your introduction to no more than 10% or less of the time of your entire performance.
To help in your own composition of a performance introduction, here are some samples. You will see that each intro element has been labeled in brackets to help you identify them more easily (you would not say these words in the actual performance).
Sample Intro for a Single-Piece Performance
[attention getter] “What defines responsibility when it comes to a divorce? [theme/message/relation] Is it better to stay together for the sake of the kids, or is it better to break the ties and get on with our lives? As future parents, this is a decision we may all have to eventually face, whether we want to or not. [personal connection] My parents finally divorced when I was 12 after a decade of misery together, and I’m still not certain what I feel is the best choice. [background info] In this piece, Joanie Marcus is faced with this decision when her chronically irresponsible husband comes back to her claiming that he has changed. [title and author] Little Footsteps, by Ted Tally.
Sample Intro for a Multiple-Piece Performance
[attention getter] An estimated 15,000 women served in the Vietnam War: nurses, staffers, volunteers. In all of our wars, women have been killed, maimed, disabled, and most of all psychologically injured. [theme/message/relation] But, they are the forgotten veterans, and it is our duty to remember them. [personal connection] I became attached to this cause after taking a college course in Vietnam-themed literature and felt pulled to create this program in tribute to these wonderful women. The Women Wounded: a program including Home Before Morning, prose by Lynda VanDervanter, "Vo Thi Troung," poetry by Lady Borton, and "Letter from Home," poetry by Dana Schuster [titles and authors]. Here, women's voices are heard as they cry for recognition.
Particularly when arranging multiple pieces of literature for performance, a beginning performer may not know how to transition from one piece to another. You may feel a need to include mini-intro-style “bridges” between the pieces to help your audience members refocus or to shift their attention more directly to a new thought or idea. In these moments, you can close your literature script and speak directly to the audience, using your own words in a natural, conversational style (similar to the vibe of an introduction) to tell the audience directly what you feel is necessary to understand the movement from one piece to the next.
While this may seem as though it should be the default method when a performer is using multiple pieces to minimize audience confusion as to which piece is which, these transitions are not always necessary, and can sometimes break the momentum of the “symphony” of build and emotion that you’ve created with your arrangement of the works. Instead of direct, separate-from-the-literature transitions, you can simply use a page turn and a change in body language and/or voice to indicate a shift in literature, mood, or thought.
However, there are times where you might feel like the message of a piece is best conveyed if you do provide transitions throughout the performance. If so, it is best when these transitions are brief. They should make a quick reference to the literature or segment that was just heard before moving on to the next.
For example, let’s say you are doing a multiple-piece interpretation program with a theme of “the hidden dangers of fairy tales.” If you just finished the last moments of Cinderella and are transitioning into Beauty and the Beast, you would close your script and address the audience directly either through memorization of the following or using a separate note card/paper to assist you:
“So, Cinderella’s story could potentially teach children that a woman’s life will only be satisfying if she finds a rich man to marry. This is not the only dangerous message these tales can send to children. As we see in Beauty and the Beast, the message sent about appropriate relationships could be even more sinister.”