Central speech program resilient in state competition

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Pictured are Central large group speech participants (front, left to right) Alivia Keppler, Maci Kluesner, Fern Diersen, Brandy Beatty, Makayla Erickson, Natalie Reyes; (back) speech director Brandon Douglas, Brayden Finley, Karleigh Thorson, Alyson Feickert, Abby Cummer, Lexi Loan, Eva Embretson, Brittni Tieden, Brenna Buckman and William Moser.

Maci Kluesner performed "Playwriting 101: Rooftop Lesson" in the ensemble group category. (Photo by Bev Hamann)

Brayden Finley and Brandy Beatty performed "The History of Television: Condensed" in the ensemble group category. (Photo by Bev Hamann)

Eva Embretson, Alivia Keppler and Brittni Tieden performed "Little Shop of Horrors" as a musical theatre group. (Photo by Bev Hamann)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The Iowa High School Speech Association’s large group speech season is underway, and Central recently participated in the state contest at Postville. While contests are allowed to be held in-person or virtually, Central participated in in-person events, with very few students and coaches attending amid an array of COVID precautions, which have been implemented to make the experience a safe and positive one. 


Central’s performances were well received by speech coach Brandon Douglas. 


“At state, the students performed exceptionally well. Each group that performed at state received an overall division 1 rating, or an excellent rating, which is the highest you can earn. Four groups earned straight division 1 ratings, where they received a division 1 from all three judges,” he said. “Putting the score aside, though, as a coach, I was exceptionally proud of each and every individual for bringing their best to the competition. They worked and supported each other as a team, and that’s what we are after every year.” 


The official results from the state on who received all-state honors won’t be available until around Feb. 17.


Like most things during the pandemic, contest was never a sure thing, and this year saw changes to the proceedings. In recent years, 30 or more schools attended the state event, but this year, that number was whittled down to eight for the Postville contest, with fewer than 100 performers in total. 


This year also saw the students wearing masks, which makes expressions difficult to discern and voices hard to hear. However, during rehearsals, at also forced the students to pay more attention to details, such as their tone of voice, as the facial expressions change during the performance. 


Another issue presented by COVID-19 since the team began preparing for competitions  in November was the effect social distancing had on building relationships and instilling confidence—something made difficult by students being unable to see or read Douglas’s own expressions when handing out advice or instructions. 


“I would say that students are not able to see my expressions as well this year, which makes it difficult sometimes, so I make sure to emphasize great things they are doing so they know they are making progress. The students have been resilient and supportive through it all and making it a fun experience still in the process,” he said. 


It was a sentiment shared by the performers as well. Central senior and speech participant Brenna Buckman said, “It’s been very different this year practicing speech. Masks have to be on at all times, which is very difficult because we can’t show facial expressions, and if you’re singing, your voice isn’t as clear. However, singing with a mask on has definitely helped with having breath support while singing, and the masks have made all performers work that much harder to do an excellent job this year.” 


“My group prepared for the competition by focusing on the little tedious movements on stage to make our show look cleaner. My coach found ways to make our performance seem more appealing to audience members by working with each individual,” added Fern Diersen. 


Also difficult was the lack of a “dress rehearsal” and the limited number of live performances prior to state. Add in scheduling conflicts and a few snow days that prevented practice time in the days leading up to the event, and you had a coach who was a little nervous. 


But, according to Douglas, “The students took all of this in stride and really worked on taking my notes as a coach and implementing them into their scenes. They performed exceptionally well because each group wanted to give a great performance. Some rehearsals may have been harder than others, but, overall, it led each one to develop something truly special on the stage.”


Among the performances was the musical theatre group that performed “Little Shop of Horrors.” The radio broadcasting group created a Russian NOT Propaganda station with their “KKGB” radio station, noted as “a historical focus and a comedic interpretation on it all that started out as a funny idea, but actually turned into something that people couldn’t stop laughing at.” 


There were also two ensemble acting groups. One scene was about the “History of Television, Condensed,” which, according to Douglas, consisted of “two students narrating how TV was invented and developed over the years in a comedic way, where they did a variety of impressions, kept the audience entertained and had a slew of lines to memorize back and forth.” 


The other ensemble was “Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson.” In this one, two of the characters are in the middle of a scene while the teacher continues to pause and rewind them back and forth until the characters have had enough and provide a twist.


Two of the groups that stood out, were the readers theatre group, which is comprised of brand-new large group speech members, and the group improvisation, which has four brand-new members. 


“They have learned a lot in their short amount of time and have had a lot of challenging moments, but also very fun ones [and] both groups truly grew a lot over the season and made it their own,” Douglas said. 


As they await the results to see who will achieve All-State honors, Douglas looked beyond the division 1 ratings and spoke of the resiliency and perseverance the team showed throughout the process. Results are important, but character is essential. 


“I am incredibly proud of this team for persevering through and continuing with the season. I did not have a single group drop between registration and district contest, which has never happened for me as a coach before. Every single team member made it to the state contest, which rarely happens for any team,” he said. “And each event earned an overall division 1 rating at state contest, which is a fantastic achievement. I am so incredibly proud of this team and am grateful for the lessons they have taught me in the process.”

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