Death by Speech
The bus screeches to a halt outside the main entrance to Warren High School, the host of my first ever speech competition. As I get out of my seat and begin ambling towards the door, I begin to think of how I got into all of this. I blame Katherine Lee for pushing me over the edge on joining Fremd’s “Forensics” Team. I give a little smile as I remember her initial attempt to get me to join: “The girls love speech guys.” But my smile fades into a look of seriousness as I remind myself of some of the real reasons that I chose to be on Speech Team while attempting to mentally prepare myself for the challenges that lie ahead of me.
I allow myself to be shepherded to Warren’s cafeteria so that I can continue to think. I remember my first practice with my coach as well as my last practice. I remember that my partner, Alex, and I used to just sit and read through our script, to get a feeling for how to say each line. Things came pretty naturally to us, considering that our script was about two guys sitting in a McDonald’s and talking and that Alex and I have been best friends since the first grade. I also remember how just yesterday, less than a month after that day, we ran through our piece with perfect blocking and memorization. Then I remember that I’m still afraid of public speaking.
“Dude, where’s our first round?” Alex asks me, bringing me back to reality. Shaking my head and giving a little chuckle at his normal attention-getter, I hand him the papers with the information for the rounds today and follow him to our first of three.
We arrive at our room a few minutes before the round is meant to begin and take a seat amongst the other novices there. As Alex and I sit down, we refrain from talking, or even breathing too loud, for fear of breaking the tangible silence that has established itself as the monarch of this room. Seconds later, our judge walks into the room and asks us for our critique sheets.
The silence struggles to remain dominant as the judge shuffles papers and scratches notes. After what feels like an eternity, he raises his head from his papers to look around and give us each a smile. He calls our names. Giving an inaudible chuckle, Alex and I stand up, recognizing something similar. As we approach the front of the room to set up the table and two chairs we are given, I involuntarily remind myself that I’m more scared than I’ve ever been. Alex and I take a seat, give the judge a nod, look at each other, give each other a nod and we’re off.
I think to myself, as we are performing, “This isn’t so bad. It’s just like we practiced.” As our script approaches its first joke, I tense a little, wondering whether or not our audience, and our judge, will laugh.
“What’re you reading?” I ask Ty, Alex’s character.
“The crossword,” he responds, annoyed.
“You’re reading the crossword?” I question him with disbelief.
I had to quell my smile and remember to keep performing as the laughter in the room began to die away. But the silence had no chance to set in before we had our crowd, and our judge, laughing again.
Before I know it, I’m asking Alex, “You know what I really like, Ty?”
“What’s that Duff?” he asks me, still uninterested.
“Burgers,” I respond in a defeated manner. As I drop my head to signify the end of our performance, I sneak a peek at our audience and see that the smiles on their faces have yet to fade. As Alex and I walk back to our seats in silence, we give way to the temptation of a high five, breaking the silence.
As I continue through my day, I noticeably change. With each round, my confidence in our piece, and ourselves, grows as my fear subsides. I also am learning to play up the funniest parts of our piece so as to steal an uproarious laugh from the audience.
Before I know it, I’m leaving my third round and walking back to the cafeteria to rejoin my team. Fortunately, the staff at Warren High School is on top of things today so we don’t wait long for awards to begin. As I take my seat amongst my teammates in Warren’s gym, I think about my doubt and my fears as this speech season started. I think of each meeting and of all the hours that Alex and I have put into this. I also tell myself to thank our coach when I next see her, regardless of how well we do today.
Then, I think of the future. I remember that this is only the first tournament of the year and that by the end of the season, we could be competing at a varsity level. I have high hopes for us and think about how much fun we are going to have.
“Our next category is Humorous Duet Acting,” the announcer says through her microphone.
I sit up in anticipation and attempt to keep my hope for a medal under control, for fear of disappointment. Places six through four seem to have flown by and I’m practically leaning forward over the person in front of me now. I think, “If we are going to get anything, it would be third place.”
“And third place for HDA goes …..” I manage to remain reasonably calm as Alex and I take the steps of Warren’s bleachers down to the main gym floor. Once we get to the front, we shake hands and receive our medals as well as congratulations. As I move back amongst my team, I feel pats on my back and don’t remember hearing second or first places for our category. As awards continue I clap and stand with everyone else, but I can’t help thinking, “Why can’t anybody pronounce our last names correctly?”
The remainder of the award ceremony seems to take forever. I can’t keep my feet from tapping and am concentrating on not jumping out of my seat in excitement. Trying to keep calm, I think of who I must call on the bus ride home to give the news; my parents, of course, a few of my friends who might actually care, and Katherine. I remind myself that I must thank her for pushing me over the edge on joining the Fremd Speech Team.