Competitive acting: Students prepare for speech competition

Myiah Jones, Staff Writer

Silence surrounded her as she mentally ran through her speech. Alone, she stepped into the rooms reciting the monologue she had tried to perfect throughout the year.  Members of the speech team, like junior Jessica Ma, just completed the last rounds of the local competition at Jasper High School, and have begun to prepare for a competition at the Harvard Speech Tournament on President’s Day Weekend.

Two to three times a month, the members of the speech team participate in tournaments at local high schools. In each tournament, students have the opportunity to get points which lead to qualifications for state competitions. Receiving points comes down to the delivery of their performance.

“My biggest fear was rejection,” Ma said. “It took me about two years to finally start placing in events and getting state points.”

Each competition has a series of rounds in which competitors in the same event compete against each other in groups of six to eight and are ranked accordingly. Senior Zoe Collenburg worries about her first impression with the judges.

“One of the hardest things is there is no right answer and you can work as hard as you want to and the judge might not like something in your piece,” Collenburg said. “It’s all about personal preference because there are no set of rules.”

Being a part of speech has been Collenburg’s passion since the seventh grade.

“They combined speech and theatre in middle school, but I always had more of a focus on speech,” Collenburg said. “I was really shy, and in speech I didn’t have to stand in front of a whole lot of people.”

Each student has the opportunity to choose an event such as humorous interpretation, prose and poetry, dramatic interpretation or duet. After selecting an event each student selects a piece to reenact. It can be from a page in a book from a scene in a movie or any other form of a written, published work. From that point the students begin to develop the persona of the character they’ve selected.

“You have to know the character as well as you know yourself,” Collenburg said. “Sometimes the characters are so opposite of who I am – they’ve helped me develop my range in portraying multiple different personalities.”

To be on the speech team students must also be enrolled in the class. Students are often pushed out of their comfort zone when participating in classroom exercises.

“We would have these exercise where we open up about ourselves and the things that happened in our lives,” Collenburg said. “We did a dramatic personal monologue, just to get to a point where we all could relate to that person’s vulnerability.”

Speech is distinguishable from theatre because the characters are solely portrayed through dialogue and emotional charisma of actors. Participants cannot wear costumes or use props to visibly show what the character is doing.

“It’s really hard to not have that prop in front of you,” Collenburg said. “For my last piece, my character pulled out a wine bottle and a glass from her drawer and it was so difficult for me. It took a long time to get that down so people would know what it was. Once I got it down it was an amazing feeling for me to know people knew what I was doing.”

Recently, Ma placed 2nd at the Naaman Forest tournament for her humorous interpretation performance.

“My humorous interpretation this year was set in a trailer park,” Ma said. “I made one of my characters an Asian woman and impersonated it after my mom. It was a huge hit with audiences.”

Students have the opportunity to select a variety of topics. Senior Abby Brooks frequently selected pieces with controversial subject matter, including her poetry piece starring a gay character. Since selecting this subject, Brooks has been ranked in last place.

“One of the hardest things is having judges that are intolerant and rank down pieces because of their subject,” Brooks said. “‘Usually they’ll say something along the lines of “‘I don’t think is appropriate’” or “‘not sure why you chose this subject’”. It’s frustrating when you’re not judged on your acting capability, which is supposed to be what they base their decisions off of.”

Members of the speech team have concluded their local tournaments and will participate in the 39th annual speech tournament at Harvard, Saturday Feb. 16 through Monday Feb. 18. The Harvard competition is where students participate in competitive events against many across the nation.

I always go in knowing that I’ve done the best that I can do,” Collenburg said. “It’s about never giving up.”