P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

Easy Links to the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Series


Over the years, US Academic Triathlon has asked students which event is their favorite. Surprisingly, the breakdown has always come out to be almost exactly split into thirds, with each of our three events taking an equal part of the pie.

Last season we provided a series of tips for improving the skit planning and performances for these students who don’t find it quite so easy. In case you missed it or need a refresher before heading into the last Round Robin Meet on February 19, we’ve provided links for the series below.

Theater Etiquette

Front and Center

Make it Memorable

Backdrops Set the Scene

Costumes make the Character

Props add Pop

Close Reading

Looking for more creative ways for your students or child to reach their full potential? Stay tuned for our next series on Multiple Intelligences that starts next week!

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Close Reading

From Stainedglassbypj.com
From Stainedglassbypj.wordpress.com

Winning isn’t everything, but it is a shame when a team misses an opportunity to get points because of an oversight.Here are a few ways to help your students excel during the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box round.

1. Read the Prompt thoroughly. The P.A.R.T.Y. challenges are never longer than one page. Even though 45 minutes isn’t a long time to do everything needed to develop a skit, it is worth a team’s time to read the prompt more than once.

2. Look at the scoring rubric. It is not a mystery how the performances are going to be scored, the scoring rubric is included on the team copy. Unless penalties are assessed, each performance scores a minimum of 30 points, because we don’t believe in zeroes, and a maximum of 117 points. Some categories stay the same, and others change depending on the story being told. Each section of the “Team’s Use of Materials” category is always worth a maximum of 10 points, for instance, and is about the appearance of costumes and sets. The section with the largest potential for earning points always centers on the plot, and the team’s ability to address the central problem. On its own, this part is worth up to 25 points. Some prompts also require teams to do something specific, like recite a poem or add music, and if gets left out it can mean a loss of 10 points.

3. Take notes. Every Meet there are teams who have to prepare their performance during the first Tri, which means it can be hours between seeing the prompt and when the performance finally takes place. Even though teams can’t take the prompt with them in order to ensure that no other team gets an unfair advantage, there is no reason they can’t take notes about what they are going to do in their skits. In the excitement of performing, kids can sometimes forget their lines and leave out something key to their story. These notes can be kept “back stage” and referred to during the performance to make sure that nothing important gets forgotten. Another place where these notes can come into play is if the team uses a narrator, who can hold onto them during the performance and refer to them throughout.

Check out the other PARTY posts for more tips!
Make it Memorable
Costumes Make the Characters
Backdrops Set the Scene
Props Add Pop

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Props Add Pop

From Beauty with a Twist
From Beauty with a Twist

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.

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Costumes Make the Characters

tragedy_and_comedy_by_cthulhu_great-d4ubc6wPeople spend a lot of time thinking about their own appearance. We wear make-up, iron our shirts, match our socks and do all sorts of things ranging from meticulous to menial when it comes to how we look. Humans make snap judgements based on how someone is dressed all the time, and there are ways for students to tap into this and use it for their own benefit during a P.A.R.T.Y. skit.

If you have ever watched these short plays, you will have seen at least one student put arm and head holes into a garbage bag and wear it as a costume. The opaque trash bags certainly cover a student’s street clothes, but it doesn’t really do anything to inform the audience about who they are supposed to be seeing instead. This is where accessories become indispensable. With only a short time to prepare the skit and a short time to perform it, teams can’t afford to leave the judges guessing. There are many small, easy to make pieces that can be added to costumes in order to inform and delight the audience. And don’t forget, there is no rule that says the backdrop paper can’t be used in your costumes.

1. Ties. Making an entire suit for a character would take a long time, but there are many people who become much more recognizable if they are wearing this kind of formal attire. Lawyers, business people, generic “dad” characters, etc could all be delineated by adding a tie. You can add further interest by making the tie colorful or dull, patterned or plain, crumpled or immaculate. And there are, of course, many different shapes for ties. Most people would see a bow tie and go straight to scientist (thanks to Bill Nye, the Science Guy), or within a line or two this person would be easily recognizable as The Doctor from Doctor Who. A cravat or bolo tie would paint a totally different picture.

2. Head gear. When you enter a room looking for a king, what would you expect to see? Well, a crown of course! Hats are another accessory that can do a lot to define your character and don’t have to take long to make, though a very elaborate hat will definitely get the attention of your judges. You can use head gear to show someone’s job. For instance, football players, motorcycle drivers and stunt people all wear helmets. You can also use hats to quickly tell your audience where they are in time. In the 1940s, no one would be caught dead without their fedora, for example.

3. Masks. Totally covering the face can be tricky because it could be hard for the judges to see your emotions, but in the case of becoming something other than human, a mask can be invaluable. Want your alien to be more alien? Give it a green face! Does your story involve a pack of wolves? A mask would be a quick and easy way to give your wolves ears and fur without having a full body costume. Masks can be held in front of the face, or held on by a strap made from paper and tape.

4. Anything worn on the torso. The audience and judges will mostly be focused on the faces of the actors, and the next biggest space near the face is the torso. Even if you don’t have the right pants or shoes, decorating the torso of your character goes a long way to informing your audience. The epaulettes of a general, or instance, go on the shoulders, and a few metals on the chest would make it easy to recognize that this person is in the military. Even if your sheriff is missing his hat, a yellow star on the chest will tell the audience they are looking at the law in these parts. Even an over-sized “Hi, my name is …” badge can add characterization, and often humor, to a skit.

5. Belts. Like hats, belts can tell you about a person’s job. Plumbers, handymen, construction workers, even Batman, have distinctive belts that can be recreated in paper. Add a couple plastic cups and you’ve even got a place to store paper wrenches and screw drivers.

6. Don’t forget the box! Besides the backdrop paper, another building material that teams often overlook is the box that contains their P.A.R.T.Y. supplies. This cardboard is much more valuable as component of a costume or prop than it is to make it easy to carry your stuff! Cardboard is rigid, so it can give the appearance of armor for a samurai or knight. It can add bulk to a strongman in a carnival, or be the basis for comically large clown shoes. This is one of the materials you can always count on getting in a Meet, so why not practice changing it into costume components?

Do you have other good ideas for adding distinctive accessories to costumes? Please leave us a comment by clicking the link below the title!

Next week, check out PA.R.T.Y. in Box Time: Props add Pop for more ideas!

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Backdrops Set the Scene

comedy_tragedy_by_kaiazon deviantart.com
comedy_tragedy_by_kaiazon deviantart.com

The materials that teams get for each P.A.R.T.Y. challenge vary, but one thing that they always get is a large piece of butcher paper for making a backdrop. Some prompts or stories may only call for a single setting, while others require to characters to move between locales. Oftentimes the backdrop is left to the last few minutes of prep time and the scenery is just an afterthought, but there are lots of creative ways to get the most out of that paper and add something special to a skit. So here are some tips for getting the most out of a backdrop.

  • The appearance of the backdrops counts as 10 points of the overall score for the skit, so don’t overlook the opportunity to get more points by doing something sloppy or unrecognizable.
  • Did you know that the paper is large enough that if students use both sides they can easily show up to four different locations? But, transitioning between them can be tricky. Most of the time, the paper is draped over the top of the backdrop holder. It can be taped in place to ensure it doesn’t fall during a show, but most teams rely on gravity to keep it in place. But, depending on how many times the characters need to change location this can be a dicey proposition, and a backdrop that falls down in the middle of a show is distracting for the audience and the performers. Tape from the competition kit cannot be used during the skit, but it can be used during set up.
  • In order to change between backdrops, students can turn the entire backdrop holder around rather than trying to “turn the page” by moving the paper itself. This can save time and hassle, but they also need to make sure they leave themselves enough space between their extra team members and any props or costumes they are saving for later and the backdrop holder as they move it.
  • One clever way to use the paper is to cut a “window” into the paper and have a character stand behind it. I was in a skit once where we had “breaking news” on a television and we used a window we cut into the paper as the television screen. Maybe the characters go through a drive-thru window at a fast food restaurant, or they step through a door to another world. There are lots of ways to incorporate this trick and add interest to a show.
  • There is no rule that says the paper must remain intact. Backdrops can take any shape your students can imagine, and the paper can be used in costumes and props if the need arises.
  • Time is of the essence, so consider dividing the labor during the PA.R.T.Y. prep time. If some people are better at drawing you might consider putting them on backdrop duty rather than working on it all together.
  • When considering the limited time available, it is also a smart strategy to get good at identifying the minimum elements needed to convey a certain place or time. If the story takes place in the future, a hover car in the sky can go a long way to situating your story in time. If there is a scene in a classroom a desk with an apple on it is a good way to simply show that setting. This corresponds to the E (Eliminate) of the SCAMPER technique.