Writing Introductions

by: Kirt Shineman & Nathan Steele

All interpretation performances should include an original and memorized introduction that is composed by the student and delivered with manuscript closed. The introduction should enhance the interpretation by relating the literature to the audience, providing necessary information about the genesis or theme, or otherwise enriching the value of the performance. The use of multiple authors and their thematic linkage should be clarified. Most introductions are approximately 45 seconds long and have five required elements. These elements combine to form a harmonious paragraph, usually delivered after a short teaser.


      1. Title & Author – What is the name of the selection and who wrote the selection. If you wrote the selection, it’s often best practice to use a pseudonymn for the introduction. This information is usually delivered at the very end of the introduction, prior to returning to the interpretation of literature.
      2. Background – What relevant information (ie: time period, setting, characters) would enhance the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the performed cutting.
      3. Brevity & Concision – Introductions should be no longer than one-minute in length.
      4. Argument/ Critical Observation/ Message – What is the value or meaning of your cutting and performance? What do you want your audience to learn? How does the literature apply to historical events, current controversies, or fated futures? In other words, why are you doing this performance and what do you want others to take away from the experience? Read more about the 4th element
      5. Memorized and Conversational Delivery – Introductions should be carefully crafted and rehearsed. You deliver introductions with the black book closed and so there is no smooth way to check for the next line. Additionally, students should strike a relaxed and conversational tone, showing the audience your personable and engaging speaking style.

EXERCISE & EXAMPLE 1 – Identify all the elements needed in an introduction in the following sample. What is still unclear in the intro? Is the piece for humor, drama, duo, or poetry? How can you tell?

TEASER ( WES: (a long silence) Dear Philip- It’s me  –  I’m in Washington, Brae-Scott dragged me down here. He thinks I should get out more. Well, it’s been almost a year and I still can’t get used to… the emptiness. I’m still kind of a mess. I’m glad I came. A half a million people are here. Unfortunately Ron and Nancy couldn’t make it. Right now, I’m at this quilt. I thought it was going to be some kind of bedspread. It sounded dumb, right? But Brae MADE me come and I’m glad he did. It’s amazing! This guy Clove Jones from San Francisco started it. He was feeling what we all feel: the pain. The frustration. Nothing being done. No one speaking out. The silence. The awful silence. Clove went out in his backyard with spray paint, stencils, a sheet, and twelve years of memories. He created the first panel for his friend, Marvin Feldman. People saw it. Made their own. They started The NAMES Project and it all just snowballed. Panels came in. From all over…I still miss you. Still love you. I wish you could see this. This is important. At last the silence is broken.

INTRODUCTION: In October of 1987, The Quilt unfolded. Faced with an endless succession of names and mementos of photographs, sheet music, letters, teddy bears, fabric ranging from satin to canvas, one viewer of the quilt reported that it is “so much like being in a cemetery, but it’s different. It feels so alive.” These stories and poems are not glib gravestones of survivors; they are the stunned words of the bloodied. There is collective amazement that this is how death is entering our bodies– as easily as a needle enters a piece of cloth. Even though the age hasn’t dawned in which a poem or a story can kill a virus or save a life, I hope this program does what all well-made quilts are meant to do: keep you warm and boost your attention. To paraphrase Aden, we must pay attention to how our lives are interwoven or die. From the musical QUILT by Jim Morgan, Merle Hubbard & John Scheck


This section highlights the fourth element of the introduction- the message. In other words, the message is an argument that the performer claims or asserts is in the literature. The argument gives reasons why the audience should listen, why the literature is significant today, and sometimes even why the style of the presentation is necessary for us to understand the literature. An argument must have four parts: the claim, the data and backing, and a warrant. The claim is what you believe the author is trying to say, or what you believe is important to this audience in the literature. When the audience is finished listening to the program what should they conclude or learn from the message? It is the performer’s job to guide or direct the audience to the same conclusion. The data or backing is why the performer believes the claim is true. This is where support is brought into the formula. If a person believes that Death of a Salesman is about “every person struggles to face the truth and avoids revealing their guilty secrets to their family. When they finally do face the truth, their image of the self is destroyed.” The next step is to prove this is true today with a fact, an expert opinion, or link to a present situation. The warrant states when the argument is true. These four parts of an argument are not always voiced. Sometimes these parts are overt and other times these parts are implied. Whether voiced or not, together these parts compose a substantial argument, which is critical for the audience.

EXERCISE & EXAMPLE 2 – Try to find the argument in the following examples and then build your own introduction with an argument. Locate the parts of the argument.

Throughout history, thousands of women have been locked away because they didn’t fit the feminine stereotype. The list includes notables such as writer Zelda Fitzgerald, Saint Joan, actress Francis Farmer, and poet Sylvia Plath. Scholar, Dr. Phyllis Chesler suggests in her book Women and Madness, “To call a woman ‘crazy’ is to say that it’s okay to dominate her. After that, her attempts to resist being dominated are ignored.” We can no longer ignore this treatment of women. In the following, Susan recounts her false incarceration into an insane asylum, in 1992, by her husband merely to get her out of his way. Crazy by Susan Hamilton

Note: the author and titles are usually at the end of the intro with beginners. With more advanced intros it may differ slightly.

a. Claim:_________________________________________________________

b. Data and Backing: _______________________________________________

c. Warrant: _______________________________________________________

2. Where is the Argument? Locate the parts of the argument AND all of the parts of the introduction.


Leslie: (A man with an Atlanta Braves baseball cap on. He is very southern.) Does this hat look okay? It doesn’t smoosh my hair out too much on the side does it? Ok. I’ll take your word for it. Hi. My name is Leslie. How are you? I deliver food to PWA’s. That’s People With AIDS. But you knew that. That’s not what I do. Well…. it is what I do, but what I do DO, see,… like half of Hollywood, I came out here to be a television star. I’ve given that up for the time being. I’ve given it up period. For now. Anyway. I’m a Chattanooga Boy. I bet you hadn’t guessed I was southern, I hide it so well. Probably already remind you of two of your fa’rit aunts, don’t I? That’s all right. It’s not the first time. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about JB, because he’s worth talkin’ about. Not that I’m not worth talking about, but I just want to, so there. You sure my hat looks all right? I’m just a slave of fashion.

Introduction: One of the roles that care givers have traditionally played is as the the “stand between people.” They stand between living and the dead. According to Dr. Scott Dillard in Text and Performance Quarterly, January 2000, “these stand between people are now the midwives for dying much as women are the midwives for birthing.” And as we grow older we must all play this role. Leslie is one of these such people. He demonstrates to us the universal and remarkable strength needed for supporting a loved one to the other side. The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me by Dan Butler.

a. Claim: _________________________________________________________

b. Data and Backing: _______________________________________________

c. Warrant: ______________________________________________________

Now that you know the basics of writing an introduction, learn how to more deeply analyze the literature (this should also help you write better introductions and create richer characters).