Just like a character’s costume, the props they use can make people with certain occupations easily recognizable. A person wearing a tie is some kind of professional, a person with a tie AND a clipboard is probably an inspector. A person wearing a baseball hat could just be a fan, but if they are also carrying a glove or bat, that will do even more to make identification by the audience possible.
In some cases, the right prop can also replace a costume. But, if this is your team’s approach, that should also mean that props get enough attention. If you are going to use a single object to tell us everything we need to know about a character, you had better make it a good object. Here a few examples of props that can help you tell the story, even if there is no costume to aid you.
1. Wands- witches, wizards, fairy godmothers and the like all carry these magical sticks. Oftentimes, teams get drinking straws in their boxes, which can serve as a basis for a wand. But don’t just point a straw at your foes, make sure to add something like a star to the end, or have another person throwing bits of paper to show that magic is coming out of it.
2. Scrolls- Some prompts explicitly call for a narrator, but really you can add this pseudo-character to any story. One benefit is that they do not necessarily need a costume, but they do a lot to tell the story and keep it on track. If you do have a narrator, give them a scroll with the script or even just an outline of the skit so they can keep the action moving if someone drops a line, or make sure to keep important parts from being left out by mistake. A bard, herald, or even a royal cook on her way tot he market in the Medieval age could carry scroll as well.
3. Weapons- There is no official policy against violence in the P.A.R.T.Y. performances, but in general we have found that judges respond better to humor than to drama or violence. But, that doesn’t mean that weapons can’t be employed to help tell your story. Even without any armor, a person carrying a broadsword is probably a knight. Maybe your cowboy doesn’t have a ten-gallon hat, but he does have a six-shooter that he pulls on the bad guy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an alien who carries a ray gun, either.
Another interesting thing I noticed in my own USAT days, as well as during judging, is that oftentimes the idea for the answer to the prompt comes from the materials available. More than once I have seen multiple teams decide to have a wizard in their skit because there was already something that looked like a wand in their box. On one hand, this is a good thing and they were able to make a quick decision and execute it. On the other hand, the three similar skits blended together in the minds of the judges, which made it harder to judge them individually and made them seem less creative than they really were.
To be safe from this problem and to get noticed, it is a good strategy to alter any object at least in some way before using it in a skit. If the long, shiny thing just screams “wand” at you, at least make the handle longer or have it make a silly noise when you’re using it. In general, seeing something used for something other than its intended purpose will be more memorable, and so be more likely to earn you more points. For instance, it is much more interesting to see a milk carton as a hat than to see it being used to pour imaginary milk.
My own teams never made it to State, but we sure had a lot of fun! But, for some teams, the competitive aspect of USAT is part of the experience and enjoyment of participating. For my final installment of this series, I will be posting P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Close Reading in order to give some tips about maximizing points during this round of the competition.