Elements of Storytelling, For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, Resources

Elements of Storytelling: The Finale

Now is the time to put everything the protagonist has learned to the test. To keep the tension high throughout the final act, the plan of attack has to hit a snag. For instance, Frodo and Sam make it all the way to Mordor, only to find that the power of the ring is so great that Frodo doesn’t want to give it up. Blake Snyder is famous for demystifying storytelling for screenwriters, and recommends a five-step finale. Using a classic “storming the castle to save the damsel in distress” scenario, he says to do the following (Source):

Step 1: The hero, and the hero team, come up with a plan to “storm the castle” and “free the princess” who is “trapped in the tower.”

Step 2: The plan begins. The wall of the castle is broached. The heroes enter the Bad Guys’ fort. All is going according to plan.

Step 3: Finally reaching the tower where the princess is being kept, the hero finds… she’s not there! And not only that, it’s a trap! It looks like the Bad Guy has won.

Step 4: The hero now has to come up with a new plan. And it’s all part and parcel of the overall transformation of the hero and his need to “dig deep down” to find that last ounce of strength (i.e., faith in an unseen power) to win the day.

Step 5: Thinking on the fly, and discovering his best self, the hero executes the new plan, and wins! Princess freed, friends avenged, Bad Guy sent back to wherever Bad Guys go when they are defeated — our hero has triumphed.

The Final Image

The protagonist may be victorious, but the story isn’t over until they have found their way back to a State of Perfection (SOP). This is the “awww” moment for the audience, who gets a chance to catch their breath after the action of the finale. For our triathletes, it is also the best place to explicitly state the moral or theme of the play for the judges before they write down their scores.

Let’s go back to the original SOP we discussed in the post about beginning a story. A group of Wilderness Scouts were gathered around the campfire. If the misfit protagonist was the only member of the group having a good time, the audience needs to see them back at the fireside. However, they can’t be the only one enjoying the camp-out anymore. The rest of the group would need to either gain an appreciation for the great outdoors thanks to the protagonist’s influence, or the friendships they forged must be strong enough to overcome their own misgivings. On the other hand, if the protagonist started off in a State of Imperfection and hated everything about the wilderness at the beginning, the audience would need to see how much they’ve changed as a result of the story.

In other words, the final image needs to have some connection to the opening image, and is often a mirror (be it fun house-style or just a normal one). This brings the story full circle, and leaves the audience with the feeling that all is right in the world. For a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skit, this is the perfect time to tell the judges the moral of the story to drive home how the team has come to understand and illustrate the theme. Plus, it’s the last opportunity to really “wow” them with a special talent or comedic relief. The old showbiz adage of “always leave them wanting more” couldn’t be truer! Judges often adjust their scores after they’ve seen all the shows in order to make sure the scoring is fair. If the story ends with a bang, it’s much easier for them to remember what they’ve seen, even if a team gave their performance at the beginning. So, don’t forget to make it memorable!

Read the rest of the Elements of Storytelling posts for more info about structure, and check out the rest of our P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box tips.

 

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 Hosts and Facilitators

Meet 3 Reflection

Wow! This condensed season is just flying by. The Round Robin competitions are now over (unless you were one of those unfortunate districts caught in the January 9th inclement weather, that is) and we’d love to hear from you about this or any Meet so far this season.

Have you noticed any differences from last year to this year? Are the weekly articles on this blog helping you and your team? Did any of the events stand out to you? Do you have any pictures to share?

Leave us a comment by clicking the link above, or send pictures to usatstuff@gmail.com!

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.

 

Announcements, For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators, For Kids

Meet 2 Reflection

That’s two Round Robins down and only one to go! We’d love to hear from you about our second Meet of the season.

Did any students display a special or surprising talent? Did you get a kick out of any of challenges? Were there items on the Face-Off that even stumped the parents?

Leave us a comment by clicking “Leave a Comment” below the title of this post and send your photos to usatstuff@gmail.com to get them into our upcoming photo gallery.