Amjadi captures sixth All State

Morrissey also earns honor for improv

On Monday, March 25, two Cedar Falls High School students performed at the All-State Festival for Individual Events at the University of Northern Iowa, one of the biggest honors a high school speech team student can achieve.

Seniors Maya Amjadi and Hanno Fenech in their All State ensemble skit. (Agatha Fenech photo)

The performers, senior Maya Amjadi and junior Carrsan Morrissey, are no strangers to All-State Speech. “I have been to All-State six times, four times in Individuals and two times in large group. For individuals, my freshman year I went in acting, sophomore year in prose, junior year in expository address and senior year in acting,” Amjadi said.

Coach Nick Chizek coached Amjadi for individual events for the fourth year in a row, and new coach Scott Sesterhenn coached Morrissey this year.

This time Amjadi went for her acting piece, “Deaf Day” by Leslie Ayvazian. “My acting piece was about a deaf mother trying to get her deaf son to learn English by watching faces and reading lips. She takes him to the park so that he can interact with other children, but it is frustrating and overwhelming for the boy,” Amjadi said.

Although it was an individual event, Amjadi’s piece required her to act as if she was talking to someone, who in reality, was not there. “Since this was an individual category, I performed the monologue by myself, which meant I had to visualize and interact with a little four year old on stage who didn’t actually exist. That was the most challenging part of this piece. My face had to react what my child was expressing, which meant I had to believe there was another person performing with me,” Amjadi said.

In her performance, Amjadi not only spoke her lines aloud, but also signed them, despite not knowing sign language prior to participating in this event. “I learned the sign language from a professor at UNI who also provided me with two sign language books. My coach recorded her reading the script and signing so that I could learn piece by piece from those as well,” Amjadi said.

Not only did Amjadi perform at All-State this year, she also helped coach. “This year I had the amazing opportunity to help coach some individual speech team events. Working with Nick Chizek, I coached Alyssa Jensen in acting, Emma Reddington in poetry, Lexi Abbas in poetry and Daniel McVicker in acting. It was challenging to communicate ideas about their pieces so that they could feel different things and have different ideas about the climax, character voice and inflection. It was fun to be on the other end of the process, and I gained a new appreciation for what my coaches have been able to do on the speech team. The people I worked with were all very talented, so it was a pleasure being able to give them feedback,” Amjadi said.

Amjadi has been involved with the speech team as long as the opportunity has been available for her. “I first got involved with speech team in ninth grade because there were upperclassmen in it who I knew from doing plays when I was younger. I heard how great it was from them and have enjoyed it ever since,” Amjadi said.

Morrissey went to All-State for his improvisation, as he has every year since he was a freshman. “It’s my third year for improv, so it was really nerve-wracking actually because every year you go back you’re thinking, ‘What if I get a bad draw or something?’,” Morrissey said.

In Improv, a person draws three characters and two situations, and chooses two characters and one situation to create a scene from that information. For All-State, Morrissey’s situation was a first job interview, and his characters were a window washer and a child actress. “I like the freedom that it gives you. Improv has always kind of been my thing. I think it’s fun because you can be anything. Obviously, you get a set character, but you can interpret it however you want. Just because you get window washer doesn’t mean you can’t take it to some crazy new level, and I think that’s great. For me it’s the most free and fun. I just get up there and go,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey also first got involved with speech team in ninth grade. “Karen Franke, who’s gone now, she came into my English class and completely got my attention, so I decided to try it out. It was really cool. The auditions were so fun, and so that’s what really got me into it,” Morrissey said.

To get to All-State speech for both individual events and large group, participants must first get to the state competition. Then, all three judges at State usually must all rate the participant as Division I. Then judges must choose one of the Division I-winning participants out of the other performers as one of the outstanding performers, nominating him or her for All-State.

“All-State was a really fun experience. It started with an opening ceremony, and throughout the day there were centers spread across the UNI campus with performers ranging in categories from Solo Musical Theatre to Improvisational Acting. My session was in the afternoon in the Maucker Union. Each center had a guest critic who awarded medals and certificates and also gave comments to each performer,” Amjadi said.

“I didn’t go for the whole day because it was just Maya and I, and we performed at the same time, so I got there about an hour early to see the other performances. It was a great experience,” Morrissey said.

“The most valuable thing I have learned from my involvement in speech team is that literally whatever you set your mind to, you can achieve. There is no way I would have believed someone if they had told me in the two days before competition I would learn sign language for an eight-minute acting piece. I didn’t think it was possible. And it wasn’t. Until I started to believe in myself that I could make it happen. That is how speech team has worked for me over the last four years. I will have new challenges, whether it be an accent or memorization or writing my own speech or transforming into a character opposite of myself: and it goes really badly, until I consciously tell myself to kick it into gear. I have to believe it is possible. And then it is,” Amjadi said.

“I also am much more comfortable speaking in front of people now than I ever was, and I have the speech program to thank for that,” Amjadi said.

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