More than a speech
Kaitlyn Boucher takes a long drag from her imaginary cigarette. She mashes it in an imaginary tray. Within seconds Kaitlyn is no longer Kaitlyn. The tiny Rugby High School freshman has morphed into a boisterous, yet haggard middle-aged woman named Shawna DuChamps.
DuChamps is a correctional officer in “Coyote on a Fence”, a play written by Bruce Graham. She half-heartedly brags to reporters about working her 14th execution, hiding behind the guilt.
“I sleep just fine. You write that down!” Kaitlyn belts out. “I sleep just fine!”
A classroom full of high schoolers and judges are riveted by the emotion pouring out of this do-everything performer. The setting is a RHS classroom during the dramatic interpretation division of the school’s home speech meet Jan. 24.
It feels more like dimly lit prison grounds as Kaitlyn owns the role. She breaks down as her character’s true feelings toward the death penalty creep through the tough veneer.
“It’s fun,” Kaitlyn said after the speech, which lasted about seven minutes. It was the fourth final she qualified for that day in her four divisions. She made the state meet last year in radio broadcasting.
“I do a little bit of something from a lot of divisions. I like dramatic and radio. I knew radio was fun right off the bat, but I’ve always done the more dramatic stuff too. I lean toward it.”
More like she embodies it. Kaitlyn was the only RHS student – from a pool of great all-around talent – to earn a state-qualifier that snowy afternoon, becoming the fourth Panther act to qualify this year. She qualified in informed speaking and also competed in radio and serious prose divisions at the RHS meet. The home side earned the second-most points at the meet with 85, behind Carrington’s 134. RHS coach Kyle Vareberg said his team doesn’t place at the home meet, despite points, so Devils Lake (80) was second and Harvey-Wells County and North Star (65) shared third.
Kaitlyn’s serious prose delivery was just as captivating as she took on the pained inner-dialogue of Giselle, a 20-something recovering anorexic from the novel “Skinny” by Ibi Kaslik.
“What is this?” chides a demon in the character’s head. The young woman was being questioned on her macaroni and cheese meal, just two weeks into regularly eating again.
“Just go to bed,” Kaitlyn says in a sinister tone, shifting between the broken young woman and the evil voice. “Just go to bed. You don’t need food. We don’t get hungry! You’ll be different when you finish; you’ll be fat!”
The piece lends itself to a duo, but Kaitlyn decided to do it alone and she flourished.
“I like the fact that I had more of a voice inside her head to play with the characters,” she said. “I liked the highs and lows of the piece and her trailer-court, southern feel.”
Kaitlyn performed both serious pieces in front of packed classrooms.
“I have a preference of not as many (people), but it usually doesn’t matter unless it’s people I know, and that gets more intimidating,” said Kaitlyn, who practices timing with her sixth-grader sister.
Panthers a diverse group
Speech isn’t just about the serious and dramatic. RHS students showcased their skills in impromptu categories and humorous performing.
Vareberg is proud of his students’ dedication this year. The team only had one qualifier before the region meet last year compared to four already in 2014-2015. Including region qualifiers, if the team tops last year’s total of 11 events at state, he will dye his hair orange. He is especially impressed with the way his competitors manage their time at meets, while performing in various categories.
“They get in in the morning, take all their schematics and it comes down to stretching themselves,” Vareberg said. “The kids do it themselves, which is the most impressive part because I’m busy.”
Jacob Berginski had a busy day, competing in multiple categories, including humorous. The senior had others close to howling in laughter with his performance of the monologue “Accents, Inc.”, by John C. Havens.
A professor starts in a British accent and explains the nuances of doing a bevy of other accents including Brooklyn, Cockney, Scottish, French, Italian, Swedish and German.
“Just pretend you have the flu,” Jacob said in a British accent while explaining how to approach the hard sounds of German.
“A Brooklyn dialect comes straight from the groin,” Jacob said before shifting to the New York borough. “Hey, bab, how ya doin?”
While pretending to hear the imaginary students repeat his exercises, he chided them on their London accent: “Not pompous enough!”
He described the Scottish accent as “great fun at parties” and belted out his best Scottish with loud, extensions of words like “Greaaaat!”
Jacob said he has been in theatre for years and has been to state speech numerous times.
“I’ve learned to take control of various characters and various voices,” Jacob said. “Learning an accent will be a piece of cake, if you follow the steps correctly and that’s what kind of led me to this piece.”
Seniors ReeAnn Christianson and Darby Deckert, in matching black shirts and white pants, performed their humorous duo. It proved hilarious as the two placed modern teen language into Greek mythology, including the Iliad. The pair has worked together in speech for three years.
“We are pretty good friends and it’s pretty important to have a good relationship with your partner,” Christianson said. “We ordered a bunch of scripts and found this one and we both really liked it.”
RHS junior Rebekah Wangler was second in the persuade division. Rebekah informed the judges of the benefits of blended learning. She confidently explained how education is changing and why classrooms should adapt.
“Mr. Vareberg mentioned the topic because he used it for one of his speeches, so I looked at it and thought it was a good fit for me, personally,” Wangler said. “It’s always a challenge to put the emotion behind what you say.”
Sophomore Thor Skjelver enjoys the limited preparation events, where students get the topic and about an hour to prepare before speaking.
Thor competed in extemporaneous speaking at the home meet and articulated the importance of looking at years of progress in U.S.-Iran relations.
“I feel most confident when I’m least prepared,” said Thor, referring to himself as a procrastinator.”
Sophomore McKenzie Oppen competed in dramatic interpretation with a piece titled “The Last Promise” by Mia Karr. The story is about a pair of sisters and an abusive, alcoholic father. McKenzie threw herself into the heart-wrenching emotions of the sister constantly being let down by a father with empty promises. One night he slaps one of the girls in the face.
“One day, I just couldn’t look at Dad, the nice man, without seeing Dad, the monster,” McKenzie said.
She said she enjoys the piece and tapping the tough emotions involved.
“Pretty much, if you don’t like it now, you’ll hate it by state,” McKenzie said.
About 250 entries from 16 schools made up the tournament. Rugby’s top-8 placers included: Berginski, 6th in humorous and entertain; Wangler, 2nd in persuade; Christianson, 3rd in entertain, 7th in impromptu; Skjelver, 3rd in extemporaneous; Zach Miller, 4th in entertain; Boucher, 2nd in informed speaking State Qualifier, 4th in serious prose, radio broadcasting and dramatic interoperation; Katie Heidlebaugh, 8th in storytelling; Zach Miller and Emily Stier, 3rd in serious duo; Oppen, 6th in informed speaking and dramatic interpretation; Madalyn Pretzer and Alissa Volk, 5th in humorous duo; Deckert and Christianson, 4th in humorous duo; Volk, 7th in poetry; Lillian Schmidt, top novice in poetry.
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