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Forensics

Saint Hilary of Poitiers School is a member of the elementary division of the Philadelphia Catholic Forensics League. The Philadelphia Catholic Forensics League was established in 1942 in order to promote leadership through speech by means of interscholastic speech and debate activities among archdiocesan schools. Their website is pcflonline.org

Forensics is the art of formal public speaking and presentation. Academic forensics teams take part in a variety of oral communication competitions. Students develop, practice, and deliver their performances which include speeches or interpretations and dramatizations of literature and poetry. Forensics competitors present a polished performance about 7 minutes in length. Although students perform as individuals or in pairs, involvement in forensics almost always means being part of a larger team that practices and competes together. Tournaments often have various team awards in addition to individual awards. Students also get many opportunities to interact with and learn from students from other schools.

We generally compete in five categories; Dramatic Performance, Oral Interpretation of Literature, Original Oratory, Declamation and Extemporaneous Speaking. A brief description of each follows:

Dramatic Performance is a category in which students present selections from published plays, screenplays, fictional or non-fictional work that are either serious or humorous in nature. The selections must be memorized with a maximum length of seven minutes.

Duo Interpretation of Literature is a category in which a presentation is done by two participants of a single selection of literature. Each performer may present one or more characters. Each character should be sufficiently developed and should interact meaningfully with the other characters. Movement should be limited and suggested rather than exaggerated. The maximum length is seven minutes.

Oral Interpretation of Literature is a case in which students present selections in one of two categories -- prose and poetry. Each selection must be a maximum of seven minutes in length. The student must hold a manuscript and appear to be reading.

Declamation requires students to use a speech or portion of a speech previously given by another person. The speech must be memorized with a maximum length of seven minutes.

Original Oratory students prepare original speeches, usually persuasive or informative on a current topic. Any topic is permissible and any form of oration is permitted. The presentation must be memorized, with a maximum length of seven minutes.

Extemporaneous Speaking - Each student draws three topics on current issues; chooses one and has thirty minutes to prepare a speech of a maximum length of five minutes. Any periodical or other published material is permitted in the preparation room. Students may not refer to any written notes during the speech.

Highlighted below are excerpts from a standard Critique Sheet that would be used by a judge during a tournament. The role of the Forensics Coach is to work with each student on each of the areas indicated below so that he/she succeeds in his/her performance.

Projection of Literature: The interpreter should demonstrate a clear understanding of the literature and project its meaning, message and tone. Without the use of costumes or props, imagery should be carefully colored to promote audience understanding and appreciation. Consideration should be given to the literary merit of the selection.

Narrator/Character Creation: The narrator should be believable and conversational. The performer should develop and maintain unique and distinct narrative voices for each character within the selection. If they are utilized, character voices should be distinctive, consistent and appropriate to the character. The interpreter should be able to demonstrate the characters’ feelings and thoughts through the use of vocal inflections, facial expressions, eye contact and appropriate intensity of gestures.

Visualization: The interpreter should help the audience to “see” the particular world of the narrator. The interpreter should establish a strong sense of environment. The interpreter should use facial expressions and gestures appropriately to bring the script to life.

Vocal Variety: The interpreter should appropriately vary vocal pitch, volume, rate, and intensity to convey the various moods and messages in the literature. Appropriate words should be stressed for clarity and understanding. The interpreter should play with sound devices such as alliteration, and attend to the sound and meaning of every word. For poetry, the interpreter should capture and effectively vary existing poetic rhythm, making use of rhyme when necessary and avoiding it when not.

Audience and Script Contact: The interpreter should invite the audience into the presentation, directing eye contact and expressing his or her feelings to individual audience members when appropriate and necessary and consulting the script when it is not. The interpreter should focus away from the audience and the script effectively during moments of internal and private thoughts. There should be a natural balance between the audience and script where one does not take precedence over the other. The interpreter should stay in the moment, with facial expression and emotional consistency, when making contact with the manuscript.

Overall Effect: The overall performance should build to various moments and have a climax. The performance should be easy to follow and complete. The performance should display another world outside of the performance space.

It does not require any prior performance or professional experience to be a Forensics coach.   All of us have had experience watching speakers and can consistently identify the successful ones just by considering the criteria outlined above.