A Tale of One Team

Unless you were born to be in the spotlight, to perform in front of people is to venture out of your comfort zone, and often you do everything you can to avoid public speaking. Yet, it is told that throwing aside your discomfort and taking a risk is one of the best possible things you can do for yourself. In the long run, the outcomes of chances you take are far more rewarding than a familiar, comfortable life.

Speech is a gateway into disregarding your comfort zone. The speech team should not be confused with a debate team, as it typically is. Speech has nothing to do with debating. It is part of the drama department, with competitions being acting performances. Speech is divided into large group and individuals. For large group, auditions are held in late October, with practices beginning in late November. The season runs through mid February, ending with the All-State Festival held on the Iowa State campus. To be asked to perform at All-State is a true honor, as it is tremendously difficult to get into. Groups can range from two to 15 actors and include events like choral reading (where actors integrate all talking at the same time) or improvisation. Individual events begin right after large group All-State and go until the middle of March. Here, actors are by themselves performing events such as solo mime or storytelling.

Involvement with the high school speech team offers pathways to furthering a speech career. Heather Kelly, a first year speech coach and Cedar Falls alumnus, desired to become a coach through her involvement in collegiate speech.

“I compared my performance skills from high school speech to now, and it is unbelieveable how much I have grown into understanding myself. That’s why I wanted to coach, to help high school kids exactly like how I was, learn and grow through performance,” Kelly said.

Fellow coach, Nick Chizek, also began coaching right out of high school. This season will mark his fourth and final year at Cedar Falls High School.

“I had participated in speech in high school and began judging right out of high school. I then was invited to help coach and loved it even more,” Chizek said.

Coaches are expected to host auditions, create the script, plan blocking and scheduling and, most importantly, help guide actors to enhance their skills. A primary focus for coaches is the preparing of a script, which can be a long process.

“For one act and ensemble, I usually find an already written script that I had seen or heard about. I then bring various scripts to my students and see which fits them best,” Chizek said. “For choral and readers theater for my Cedar Falls experiences, I had a story I wanted to adapt for the event. I then work on adapting it for many ages.”

Coach Kelly follows a similar procedure.

“To prepare a script means finding one first, and that is usually the hardest part. It requires a lot of research and reading to find a script that is interesting and compelling. After that, it comes down to whether it is a collection of literature or a single script. If it is a collection, the next step is to compose the literature together so it flows or creates a story. Then, with either form, you cut out parts you don’t want. You must cut it to maintain the story but also remain within the time limits for competition. It sounds complicated, but once you learn the process, it makes a whole lot more sense,” Kelly said.

Blocking is another challenge for coaches. To plan blocking requires all actors to be at practice, which can be a struggle.

“I usually have a basic structure of what I would like the show to look like. First, I set the scenic elements (blocks); then I see what my students can bring to the plate. If something isn’t working or we are completely stuck, I give specific blocking notes,” Chizek said.

Kelly takes a different approach.

“I plan blocking with a combination of new and old. I first see if there is anyone else who has performed it, mainly by browsing YouTube or any other form to watch it performed. Usually it comes down to envisioning the characters, how they would move, making sure each person has motivation for movement and creating an interesting scene. It is all about making each line have a statement and their placement among other aspects,” Kelly said.

Coaching speech offers its fair share of difficulties, from condensing a script to finding a practice schedule that works for everyone.

Kelly states that the biggest challenge is working with numerous different experience levels and personalities.
“I have to figure out how a person works in order to help them create a character of their own and to be comfortable stepping out of their box, or challenging them to do more than what they already have.”

Coach Chizek finds that student involvement is the hardest part of coaching, since students are very busy, it is challenging to have everyone at rehearsal.

Both Chizek and Kelly agree that the most rewarding part of coaching speech is working with students and watching them grow as performers. Witnessing students develop their own “speech instrument” is a very rewarding experience for a coach.

Students involved in speech find that they are more at ease speaking in front of people. Since it is an extracurricular that pushes participants out of their comfort zones, students become more confident expressing themselves.

“Being able to communicate ideas effectively is a good skill for numerous situations, and speech has taught me how to do so,” ssophomore Daniel McVicker said.

While coaches are busy composing the script and blocking, a different set of challenges arises for performers.
“Knowing all the rules and qualifications to not get disqualified is very difficult,” sophomore Emma Redington said.

“Putting myself out there to be a completely different person than I typically am is my biggest challenge with speech,” junior Taylor Horvatich said.

With the numerous struggles that arise finding the performer within each student, speech is ultimately a gratifying experience.

“It is a great feeling when you finally finish a performance and you see all of your hard work pay off, especially when you get a Division I,” sjunior Jensen Kaufman said.

Cedar Falls has a prosperous speech department, as there is no shortage of students wanting to be involved with the extracurricular. Throughout its history, the team has sent many events to All-State. The speech team is not connected with the drama department, which isn’t a commonality. At Waterloo West, the speech and theater departments are combined, which has its pros and cons.

“I think CF could definitely benefit from a connection of departments, especially since I know a lot of my students struggle to balance both within their schedule. On the other hand, I know Bill Dawson, West High’s coach and director, takes on a lot more than even Ms. Rathe does at CF to accomplish that connection and ease of scheduling. When you have mostly college students coaching speech, like we do, rather than a teacher, you are working with two different sets of schedules, and a teacher’s schedule lines up with a high school student’s much easier,” Kelly said.

Though the connection of departments would have its positives, there may also be some drawbacks.

“I believe the combination would have its benefits, but I also think having them separate gives students more variety in teachers on the topic of drama. Although both departments here are successful, both approach theater in different ways. I think for students, that is a great benefit,” Chizek said.

The speech team encourages students to break out of their shells and release their inner performers. It teaches self-confidence and how to express themselves, which are valuable skills for nearly any situation. Students involved with speech learn many lessons. Arguably, the most substantial is that they can’t be afraid to look silly once in awhile.

“Good performance does not come without making a fool of yourself,” Kelly said.

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