forensics tournament and assumptions (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on february 14, 2020

During the second half of this week, I had the privilege of participating in the SEA Forensics tournament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This tournament was my first time doing Forensics (Speech & Debate) competitively, and I was nervous but prepared. I would be participating in two events: Oral Interpretation and Solo Acting.

Before I go any further, I'll explain what these events are.

Oral Interpretation (OI for short) is an event in which I read an excerpt from a book out loud. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a competitive event focusing on the voice in which almost all body movement is disallowed. The idea is to be able to tell a story and evoke emotion with only your voice.

Solo Acting sounds straightforward; I act out a piece without any assistance. The piece doesn't have to be a monologue. If there is more than one character, I act them all. I differentiate with my voice, body position, and actions.

I prepared for these events for months, rehearsing for over four hours per week. Even though I told myself it was improbable, I was secretly expecting the whole time to win. I don't know what builds up these expectations in me, but I feel like I'll win no matter which category. I find myself among the elite in my school or friend group and assume that my mastery extends beyond those around me.

We took the train to KL, arriving the night before the first day of the tournament. I was pretty excited and was confident in doing well.

I woke up early the next morning, ready to show the other competitors that I was the best.

My first event was in Oral Interpretation. I went in and read my passage (an excerpt from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo) with energy and a level of emotion that I was sure surpassed the other competitors I heard.

The first and second rounds have two judges in each room. Each judge ranks the competitors in the room and scores them — the top half moves on to the semifinals.

My two judges gave me a pretty high rank, 1st and 3rd. I took into account their comments and prepared for my Solo Acting.

In Solo Acting (I performed "As Seen on TV" by Jim Gustafson), I was struck by how talented my competitors were. I still believed that I was among the best, but I began to realize that others might offer some fierce competition. I ended up ranked 2nd by both judges.

I went back to the hotel slightly discouraged that evening, realizing that while I may be an excellent competitor, I was no longer the best out of a host of people generally unskilled in my events. In going to a tournament, I placed myself in a position of competing against the elite, and I hadn't prepared myself for that. I expected that I would do well, forgetting that everyone else assumed that too.

The second day (Friday, February 14th) would contain both the second round and the semifinals.

I performed my Solo piece early in the morning and sat around to wait for results. I got my results a little while before lunch and found myself ranked 4th by both judges, a step down from my double 2nd place. (Because I had performed well in the previous round, I had been placed with people with more skill.) However, this was still enough to qualify me for the Semifinals.

I performed my second round of OI at 1:40 PM, only one and a half hours before I was supposed to go into my Solo Acting semifinals. I felt like I had done well.

In the Solo Acting semifinals (semifinals had three judges, not two), I found myself in a room with three of the best actors I had seen and another I hadn't seen perform yet. I ended up absolutely astonished, as they all outperformed my expectations (even the one who forgot her lines in the middle of her performance, although she didn't make it to the Finals). I felt that I too, however, had outperformed my previous tries.

Exiting the Solo Acting semifinals, I checked the schedule and found that I had made it into the Oral Interpretation semifinals that would happen in about half an hour.

I was excited that I had made it, but I didn't have the judges' grading sheets yet and didn't know what rank I had gotten or what I could have done better.

I ended up getting my judge sheets with about ten minutes left to practice. I had been ranked 1st and 2nd, better than any of my performances in either event. One judge, however, had left a comment that two of my voices were hard to distinguish, so I decided to try to make more of a difference between the two.

I felt extremely confident going into the OI semifinals. I had been ranked 1st and 2nd in the last round, almost guaranteeing that I was in the top few. I performed well and went out of it feeling confident.

My impressions at this time were that I was more likely to reach the finals in Oral Interpretation than Solo Acting, given the high standard of excellence shown by the Solo Actors and my performance in the previous rounds of OI.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had made the finals in Solo Acting, despite my fears. Celebrating, I awaited the release of the Oral Interpretation results with confidence, assuming that I would make it.

Much to my surprise, I did not. The judges had ranked me 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, each one commenting that the tone of my voice had not varied enough or shown enough emotion, contrary to what previous judges had said. The only solution I could think of was that when I had made the last-minute change to distinguish the characters' voices, I had inadvertently caused the loss of all of the emotions those characters had previously displayed, causing my downfall.

I comforted myself, telling myself that I had succeeded in Solo Acting and promptly tried to forget about the Oral Interpretation results.

The next morning, I filed into the theater for the Solo Acting Finals with anxiety growing in my heart. As each competitor wrote their pieces on the whiteboard, I realized that all of them (except one that I hadn't seen before) were the competitors I had most feared competing with.

I watched the first two performances and quickly realized that I had no chance of beating anyone if I performed with the same skill I had in previous rounds. The changes I had made the previous night would have to work.

This time, I had realized that I could assume superiority in a competition like this. Besides, I was a finalist, so I was one of the best whether I got a prize or not (especially for someone in his first year of Forensics). The pressure was off of me, and I think that I performed better than I had ever done before.

I didn't end up winning a prize, but I didn't come in last. The five judges (in the Finals, there are five) ranked me 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th. I'm pretty satisfied with my results, and I'm happy to have had the chance I did.

Anyway, if you want to watch my performance you can here:

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