OTTUMWA — Students and their coaches from 24 schools gathered inside Ottumwa High School Saturday to participate in the Iowa High School Speech Association’s District Large Group Contest.
The groups were evaluated by judges for performances ranging from musical theatre and ensemble acting to one-act plays and group improvisation. Most had just five minutes to wow the judges.
Maddie Hamilton, a senior at Oskaloosa High School, competed in the solo mime division and titled her performance “no one can hear you act in space.”
Hamilton said the name came from an improv troupe she was in. It was a friend who gave her the idea after mentioning space themes and stating those exact words.
The mime division was different from the other divisions, as no talking was allowed. Some viewers called it an entertaining form of charades as some laughed, while others tried to swallow their chuckles.
Hamilton was pleased with her own performance. She always performed in the mime division because of the joy she gets out of it.
“It’s a lot harder because you can’t use words,” she said. “You use your body; it’s another form of speech almost. It’s really fun to tell a story, especially when I don’t have to use my words. I don’t get stage fright.”
Nathan Campbell, a junior at Ottumwa High School, competed in the reader’s theatre division. It was his first year competing, but he is no stranger to performing. Having performed for years, reader’s theatre seemed like the right fit. Actors could read the script as long as they were able to act simultaneously.
Campbell said actors had to learn to express all their lines. The division did present a challenge.
“You might think it’s easier because you have the script in front of you,” he said, “but I think it can be challenging because you want to be able to communicate to the audience and express yourself like using facial expressions.”
Although it was a long day for Campbell, competing and preparing, he still loved watching his friends compete in different categories such as improv.
“I think it’s really awesome that there’s different categories,” he said. “It lets people express themselves in their own way. I’m definitely hoping to do it next year.”
Natalia Campbell, Nathan’s mom, came to support her son and help the school with the competition. From the outside looking in, she said, she could tell the hard work that went into competing.
“They were very good, very talented,” she said. “You could tell they spent a lot of time practicing to make it good. I knew kids from other places because they’re my son’s friends, so it was kind of fun to see my kids’ friends doing something from different schools.”
Like Natalia Campbell, Crystal James could see the hard work that went into preparing for the different divisions. She said it is something she has seen each year since she has been a judge since the early 1970s. As a former speech student, she said there is a huge benefit to participating.
“It’s a good preparation for life,” she said. “Speech is a lifetime learning skill. The students here are focused and have a mission to be here. They appreciate the guidance you give them and the suggestions. Hopefully with the oral critiques they will build on that.”
Head Large Group Speech Coach Spencer Sones agreed. “Life is becoming more and more impersonal,” he said. “There’s more communication via digital means, and people yearn for the connection that comes from an activity that comes from being in an activity that doesn’t require extra equipment. It’s a skill they can do for the rest of their life, and they will be able to talk in front of people and build that connection back.”
Seven out of nine groups from Ottumwa will move onto the next competition at Cedar Rapids Washington High School: three group improvs, two ensembles, one reader’s theatre group and one musical theatre group.