High-schoolers put words into action on stage

Durango debate, speech team tackle range of issues in one-night show

Paul Myers and James Calvet display their comedic chops during their rendition of Rich Orloff’s “The Whole Shebang” on Thursday night at Durango High School. Enlarge photo

Chelsea Terris/Special to the Herald

Paul Myers and James Calvet display their comedic chops during their rendition of Rich Orloff’s “The Whole Shebang” on Thursday night at Durango High School.

If the sensitivity and stage presence of nine high-schoolers is any indication, the future of our country is looking up.

Thursday night, members of the Durango High School Speech and Debate Team put on their game faces for “Feature Act,” an evening of oratory, debate and dramatic performance.

Working under time constraints, this group of teens seamlessly presented their own pieces, full of heart and social awareness and adapted speech formats designed for much longer performance, to fit the bill.

They fearlessly attacked themes of racism, sex, violence and creativity with maturity, seeking no easy answers. While public speaking is a skill that reaps great rewards in the world beyond high school, be it in the board room, protest march or job interview, it is rare to see a group of youngsters embrace the challenge with such enthusiasm.

Carl Sallee started the evening with his original oratory, “The Importance of Being Bored.” Carl criticized our technology-addicted modern society, which he credited with having “as much creativity as a school of goldfish.” He then launched into his own tech-deprived childhood, which allowed him space to let his mind wander and grow. When Carl explained that a lazy-minded society can rehabilitate by unplugging for an hour a day, his speech came full circle.

Next, was an informed and spirited public debate about the validity of birthright citizenship. Kevin Brinkley and Koby McInnis modeled methods of debating a topic using two-minute and three-minute speeches, as well as crossfire technique.

Koby delivered her points with poise, backing each passionate assertion with compelling facts. Kevin employed an obvious charisma to support his position, heavily backed in financial concern for the U.S.

It’s not easy to be funny, but Kendall Walden, a freshman new to the club, made it look that way. She took the stage with “My Point, and I Do Have One” by Ellen DeGeneres, and was captivating from start to finish.

Her physical comedy and embodiment of multiple characters in this one-woman humor speech showed great maturity and garnered laughs all around.

Peter Bussian drew on his life experience of having a Dutch stepmother to express the wildly funny and chaotic world of in-house culture clashes.

In the poetry category, Ryan Ehrig entertained the crowd with his favorite tall tale, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service, employing a gripping drawl that chilled my bones as he played out the humorous and harrowing story.

Standout performances included the dramatic monologue, “White People” by J.T. Rogers, performed by Ryan Mull, an extemporaneous speech by Amanda Urban, and duo interpretation of excerpts from “The Whole Shebang” by Rich Orloff, expertly acted by Paul Myers and James Calvet.

Ryan took on the persona of a middle-aged teacher coping with his own racial prejudice with an understanding beyond his years. Amanda delivered a speech she had written within 30 minutes of her performance with seamless confidence and a plethora of well-ordered information.

Paul and James blew away with their comedic scenes from this larger work, inspecting the creation of the universe. Both put on hilarious physical and vocal changes to portray their characters, and displayed a singularity onstage that can only come from years of friendship and hours of devoted practice.

With the support of head coach Darlene Clayton, whose affection and appreciation for each student was apparent in her introductions, these teens transformed onstage. Nine young adults shared vital ideas and a take on the great maxim, “Know thyself.”

chelseaterrisrose@hotmail.com. Chelsea Terris is a freelance writer and social-media specialist.