Faith A. Hunt
Maquoketa Valley High School is known for its success in speech. The program has received multiple conference champion titles along with many of their speech groups receiving best of centers. A best of center is given to the most talented group of each category throughout the competition by the judge. I’ve had the honor of participating in speech at Maquoketa Valley for four years. It takes a lot of work and practice to become one of the best and you have to start somewhere. The category I was in was ensemble acting. Ensemble acting consists of two to eight members, four chairs, one table and a time limit of 15 minutes. Two weeks ago practice began for this event every Tuesday morning from 6:50-7:50.
I arrived promptly to our first practice at 6:40, giving myself enough time to wiggle my book bag into my locker and gather my planner and pencil pouch before I could be labeled late.Most speech students usually show up late or right on time when practice is in the morning. As>6:50 creeped closer only two out of three other team members had shown up. But the show must go on and we began practice a little late at 6:55 when they both arrived.
Morgan and Kristin, my two teammates, and I gathered in a pod of four desks, with Mrs.DeVore filling the empty seat. The first and most important step of the first speech practice is to go over the rules for the category of Ensemble Acting or whatever category a person is in. Since we didn’t have any freshmen in our group, quick skim of the rules got the job done and then we jumped right in. After that, she handed out the scripts, and Morgan questioned her “What is this about?”
“Well,” she puckered her lips, “it’s intense but I really believe in you guys. I am going to tell you now that these characters are going to push you. This story is about the aftermath of a school shooting.” The room fell silent. The air around us seemed to freeze and everything stilled. Everyone looked around at each other with wide eyes letting the topic sink in. It is very important to understand what the piece is about before you begin reading because it gives you a idea as to how you should read your lines.
Next the speech coach assigned characters for each of us for the first read through. Morgan and Kristin’s body language was very rigid throughout the piece and their eyes were glued to the script. As expected, many stutters and mispronunciations occurred. Typically this happens the first time a group reads through their piece because they are nervous about reading aloud, pondering how they should be saying their lines, and analyzing whether or not they like their character. Around 7:15 we completed the first read though. We shared our thoughts on our first impressions of the script and began the second read through. It is crucial this happens before the second read through because more often than not, confusion arises about what is happening throughout the piece.
The second time around Mrs. DeVore had Kristin and I rotate characters. Only one character was a boy in the piece so Morgan stayed as the same character the entire practice. This puts him at an advantage because he had the chance to dive deeper into his character every time we read through it the first practice. When we began, Mrs. DeVore set down her script and just listened to us read. This gave her the chance to listen to the emotion in our voices and help her decide what character she liked us better as.
During the third read through I could hear the rustle of paper more frequently on either side of me. Morgan and Kristin were already becoming familiar enough with the script to know when the last line of the page would be. Around 7:40 we finished the last read through. With the of practice nearing fast, we took time to discuss our overall first impressions of the piece.
“This is powerful,” I stated as Kristin nodded her head.
“Mrs. DeVore, I don’t think I am going to be able to pull this off very well. I really hope I can do this,” Morgan chewed his lip and glanced back through the paper itself while Kristin and I agreed softly. Our coach explained that she chose the group of people she did because she knew that we would all be mature enough to present it and do the piece justice. It is typical for a coach to tell their group why they picked the group they did because it reassures the group that they can tackle the piece together. Afterwards group members express that they are excited for the year and goals they have for the piece overall. Then we officially ended the practice by talking about the next one which involved discussing memorization goals for the next week. It usually takes around 10 practices to become competition ready including our winter break practice that is three hours long. That said, the number of practices all depends on the commitment of the members in the group.
The next few practices consist of three things: memorization, memorization and more memorization. Ensemble acting is completely memorized and no scripts are allowed during competitions. Once memorization of the entire piece is consistent and solid, practices will be focused on blocking. Blocking is all the interaction between characters and each characters facials during the speech performance. Once this is perfected, practice becomes a constant run through of the entire piece. After every run through the coach will go over their comments and critique the little things throughout it like the pronunciation of articulation of words.
Mrs. Devore sent us off with her normal feel good comment, “You guys can do this! I believe in all of you!” It’s a cliche comment but it never fails to put a smile on everyone’s face as we walk out the door. Maquoketa Valley Speech coaches strive to make our last memory of the first practice a positive one.