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Principles of Choosing Literature 

Literature speaks to people in different ways. As a student reads various literature for their piece, besides personal preference, they should consider the following qualities of Great Literature discussed on the MJ Booklover blog in an article titled “Four Qualities that Make Great Literature Special,” April 3, 2017.

    1. “Great works may present and explain something about their times, but also observe something larger and lasting about the human condition.”
    2. “Great literature is based on ideas that are startling, unexpected, unusual, weighty, or new.”
    3. “Great literature is fine art. As such, it is aesthetically marvelous.”
    4. “Great literature is complex enough to offer us something new every time we read it, especially at different stages of our lives.”

Additionally, students should choose a piece of literature that has a personal meaning for them and a universal message that will appeal to a broad audience.

To Thine Ownself (the Student’s) Be True

I have a friend who is a coach, and he can tell you every piece and what year it was in an NSDA final round. I have seen them all, but he studies them, and it has helped him become a great coach. An excellent way to learn is by watching, but we offer a word of caution: don’t copy. Artistic plagiarism is unacceptable. Also, don’t be too quick to find another piece just like the one that won the previous year. If you watch the videos of previous performances, you will see trends in topics, transitions, and style. No success is guaranteed to the student who finds a piece similar to one in last year’s final round. Find a piece of literature a student loves, relates to, and desires to share that story.

Reasons Literature Might Not Work for a Particular Performer

  1. The literature might be more complicated than the student is capable of handling because of the technical skills required to bring it to life. I once had an extremely talented student do an HI piece that required him to do 15 distinctive characters with different voices and physical characteristics. Not all students have the skills to be successful with such a piece, but a student who can find the right piece for their abilities can be just as successful. The piece does not have to be technically tricky or intricate to be successful.
  2. If searching for a Dramatic or Humorous Interpretation piece, you and the students have to consider how the story is told. We won’t say that the only literature that works is performed in the first person, but it is undoubtedly the most common.
  3. The literature is about or contains material that the student would be uncomfortable performing. Even if they say they are comfortable with the literature, we always ask, “Would you be comfortable performing this in front of your grandmother?”
  4. As discussed in the previous lesson, playing different races, genders, circumstances, and perspectives needs special casting considerations to avoid appropriation. 


For items 3 and 4 you might need to consult with a parent or guardian for permission for specific pieces of literature.