Speech team soars to new heights
Fred Hucke’s speech team at the Fairfield High School has never been more popular.
More than 80 students are out for speech this year, the most in Hucke’s 21-year tenure as the coach. The coach said that number is well above the team’s average participation of 45-65 students. The speech team boasts an unusually large freshman class of 18 students. Hucke said many students wait until they’re sophomores or upperclassmen before trying out for the team, but he noted this year’s freshmen class is particularly “artsy.”
The 2014 speech team is not only exceptional for its size but also for its talent. Of the 18 entries that performed Saturday in Wapello, 16 earned a Division I rating. Those 16 entries will perform at the state competition Feb. 8 at Linn-Mar High School, where they will compete against more than 145 other schools.
Each entry consists of a handful of students doing some kind of routine that could include singing, miming, dramatic acting or comedy. Students tell the coaches what kind of acting they’d like to do at the beginning of the year. The coaches try to accommodate their wishes while also steering them toward the performing art that best suits their abilities.
Hucke said middle school drama director Tena Nelson deserves a lot of the credit for the students’ success because she gets them interested in acting and teaches them the fundamentals before they enter high school.
Sophomore Loreena Hucke is in her second year on the speech team. As a young girl, many of her afternoons were spent watching her dad coach the older kids while she patiently waited to go home. She said the experience opened her eyes to how enjoyable speech team could be, so she auditioned for it as soon as she was in high school.
Loreena plays the part of “Molly” in a musical theater group that sings three songs from the musical “Annie.” A musical theater performance can last up to 10 minutes and includes memorized songs and dialogue from a musical. The three songs she and her five teammates sing from the musical are “Tomorrow,” “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Little Girls.”
Loreena said one of the best things about being on the team is the sense of camaraderie the students feel for one another.
“I know this sounds really cheesy, but we really are like one big family,” she said. “We all try to see each other’s events.”
Junior Solomon Maselli and senior Nicolas Rich are part of an improv group with Lalita Martin. Improv is unlike some of the other forms of speech in that it is unrehearsed, meaning it can be difficult to prepare for. At contest, the improv team draws three situations from a hat and must act out one of the situations. The students then have two minutes to prepare a five-minute performance.
“I usually know immediately which situation I want to do,” Nicolas said. “We have our strengths when it comes to characters. We decide what characters we want to include, and then decide who would be best in each role.”
The situation the team chose at Saturday’s contest was a “liars’ support group meeting.” Like many of the scenarios they could have drawn, the team had not practiced anything quite like that in rehearsal. Nevertheless, the team was able to think of things to say and do, which included Nicolas jumping off a chair and nearly hitting his head on a ceiling fan.
The improv performers play games to help them prepare as much as possible for novel situations. For instance, they will pretend to be a character, and the other members of the group can’t leave until they’ve correctly guessed the character. This exercise improves their acting and their ability to read the intentions of their team members.
Solomon said the judges will mark a team down if its members don’t face the audience enough and if they do not incorporate elements from the other members’ acting in their own performance.
Solomon said three people is a good number for an improv group because it’s hard to manage groups larger than that, while having only two people on stage leads to too much awkward silence.
Nicolas said he joined speech team because he wanted to become more confident speaking in front of an audience. He feels he has a pretty quick wit, and thus sought out a spot in an improv group. He has considered doing stand-up comedy as a hobby and said the stand-up comedian he looks up to most is Louis C.K.
“Unfortunately, I can’t repeat anything he does on stage without getting in trouble,” he lamented. “People told me I would be a good stand-up comedian, and I wanted to be one as a kid because I watched a lot of stand-up comedy.”
Solomon said his improv group tends to employ absurdist humor with deadpan acting. He said they actually don’t mind the occasional awkward pause that makes the audience feel uncomfortable, which then turns into laughter.
One of the other groups on the team is performing a one-act play called “Sylvia.” Sylvia stars Coren Hucke as “Greg” who brings a dog home to his wife “Kate,” played by Shea Malloy. The arrival of the dog, “Sylvia,” played by Makayla Kessel, does not sit well with Kate. Sylvia, who can talk, eventually convinces Kate to keep her after explaining that owning a dog is not a big deal compared to other life decisions. The play also features Joseph Wilbur as “Tom,” Greg’s friend, and Rachel Biggs as “Phyllis,” Kate’s friend.
Betsie Wotherspoon is one of three assistant coaches along with her daughter, Noel Wotherspoon, and high school teacher Kevin Hosbond. Wotherspoon read “Sylvia” this past summer and thought it would be perfect for speech team. However, one-act plays can only last 35 minutes, and Sylvia was a full-length play lasting a few hours.
Wotherspoon cut Sylvia down to size while maintaining the essential storyline. She and her students made further edits, eliminating unnecessary lines and changing some of the material to make it age-appropriate.
These acts and many more will be on display tonight and Tuesday as part of the speech team’s “Nights of Theatre.” Both shows begin at 7 p.m. Half of the team’s acts will perform tonight and the other half, which includes the play “Sylvia,” will perform Tuesday. The performances are free of charge, but donations will be accepted to support the speech team.