Literary Material

What is Allowed #

Material is allowable as long as it fits the literary genre prescribed in the rules for the particular category a contestant is participating in, and it meets content expectations of the contestant’s school/school district administration. 

Due to copyright laws, material may not be transcribed from video sources, such as YouTube or streaming services. When attempting to locate original source material, the genre of such material is what prevails, not the mode of performance. This means if a YouTube performer is presenting a prose narrative, the material is categorized as prose, and NOT as drama. For more details on rules and allowed genres, please see the Speech Handbook on the Categories & Topics page.

For contestants in Farrago and Solo Acting (Humorous or Serious), students also are required to perform quality material (see definition below), although this standard could be applied to any interpretive category. A side note: for schools participating in national qualifying contests, such as those offered by the NSDA and NCFL, there are more stringent rules pertaining to how the material is published, and coaches should consult those rules, accordingly.

Reuse Not Allowed #

Material may never be used again by the same contestant in different years of WISDAA participation, across both middle level and high school grades, and irrespective of category. Students involved in the One-Act Theatre contest series may not use material from their one-act play in the same school year. In group categories (Group Interpretive Reading, Play Acting, and Readers Theatre), schools may not re-use material in two successive school years.

Definition of “Quality” #

Quality material is defined as that which “gives insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems and understandings and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings or stereotyped characterizations.” It is recommended that such material be sought for all interpretive categories, even if there is no specific evaluation item related to selection of material.

Definition of “Drama” #

Drama is literature with line attributions to particular characters and with stage directions, such as a play. Dramatic literature is not allowed in Group Interpretive Reading, and is required in Play Acting.

Play Acting & Drama #

Can non-drama genres be adapted for Play Acting? No. Adapting other genres of literature (such as novels or poetry) abuses copyright/intellectual property rights of the material’s original author. We have been asked if an adaptation of another’s work fits the definition of “original,” and the answer is no. Those concepts and ideas are still the intellectual property of the original author. Fortunately, we have a Group Interpretive Reading category, where works of literature that are not drama are perfectly suitable for performance.

Transcribing Videos #

Neither contestants, nor coaches or others supporting them, may transcribe videos. A transcription not provided by the originator of the material is a violation of copyright law. In other words, an official transcript, licensed/authorized by the original artist, is allowed.

Plays in Verse #

Plays written in dramatic verse (such as Shakespeare’s or Sophocles’) are dramatic literature, and as such, must be performed in categories where drama/plays are allowed. They are not considered poems, per se, even though they are written in meter/verse. Therefore, they should not be performed in high school Group Interpretive Reading, but may be used in Middle Level Readers Theatre, since that category allows for dramatic literature. For individual (solo) scripted reading performance, plays in verse are a better fit in Prose Reading, because of the underlying narrative and characterizations.

Song Lyrics #

Song lyrics are poetry, unless the song comes from a stage or film musical (e.g., Hamilton, or The Greatest Showman) — then they’re considered drama (dramatic literature). The exception would be a song that existed prior to its incorporation in a musical (e.g., “Dancing Queen” in Mamma Mia! or “Rhythm of the Night” in Moulin Rouge).

Generative Artificial Intelligence #

Where published material is required, students are prohibited from performing material created by generative AI sources. Overall, generative AI should not be used as a source of material; while generative AI may be used to guide students to articles, ideas, and material, the original source of any material that is performed must be available if requested. Students in all categories are prohibited from using generative AI to write introductions and transitions.

Stand-Up Comedy #

This is a complicated issue, due to several factors.

In Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, rules state: “material shall be a cutting from serious or humorous drama or other literature adapted to the dramatic format with brief narrative transitions…” Stand-up comedy is often not published in print form, and students should never transcribe directly from a performance (that is a violation of copyright law).

Additionally, in Farrago and Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, adjudicators assess how the material chosen meets the definition of “gives insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems and understandings without sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings or stereotyped characterizations.” In response to that criterion, adjudicators often comment on the superficial and stereotyped nature of characterizations in stand-up comedy.

The other pitfall of performing such material is it’s easy to mimick the original comic, since there isn’t much of a characterization with which to cultivate a more original interpretation. That then raises issues of artistic/performance plagiarism.

Depending on the nature of the material, though, it may work for Prose Reading or Farrago (or if published in print, Solo Acting Humorous). A number of stand-up routines include powerful social commentary and analysis, and are important messages worth sharing. Coaches and students should engage in conversation pertaining to how material meets that objective, while falling within the parameters mentioned above.

Where to Find Material #

First, review the definition above for quality material. This is a great standard to apply to literary material in all interpretive categories. Start by asking students books they’ve read (on their own and/or in classes) or movies/television shows they’ve viewed that resonated with them. Ask what current issues in society are important to them. Knowing students’ interests helps you find material they can be passionate about, which will come through in their performance. The school library is a great place to start. In fact, some librarians have a limited budget for acquiring new materials, so they may have a catalogue of plays and other materials. The public library is another place to look, and asking English and theatre teachers for ideas can be helpful. Be wary of vendors who publish literature for “contest” or “classroom” performance, since these often lack the depth of what can be found in other works of literature the student would need to cut to contest length. The process of cutting can be a tremendous learning experience for students, as they determine what themes and character qualities they wish to cultivate in their performances.

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Updated on 03/16/2024
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