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March 3, 2021 Academics

Zoom becomes important for Siouxland speech & debate contests in the COVID age

East High School senior Juan Fuentes mugged for the camera as his classmates Jacob Mace and Max Braunstein looked on. All three students were a part of East's nominees for the Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA) All-State Tournament. Normally held in person, this year's nominees utilized technology like Zoom to record their selections. Photo by Earl Horlyk, Sioux City Journal.
East High School senior Juan Fuentes mugged for the camera as his classmates Jacob Mace and Max Braunstein looked on. All three students were a part of East's nominees for the Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA) All-State Tournament. Normally held in person, this year's nominees utilized technology like Zoom to record their selections. Photo by Earl Horlyk, Sioux City Journal.

“Good actors I’ve worked with all started out making faces in the mirror,” legendary actress Bette Davis once said. “And you keep making faces all your life.”

OK, what happens when an actor needs to cover most of his face with a mask due to COVID-19 concerns?

Well, then you hope to have very expressive eyebrows, according to East High School 12th-grader Carter Vanderloo.

“Even with a mask covering your nose and mouth, you can say a lot with your eyes and eyebrows,” he explained. “You also have speak up, concentrate on your diction and make your voice a bit more nasal for the judges to understand you.”

Vanderloo ought to know. For the fourth year in a row, he and his classmate Max Braunstein have earned them Large Group All-State nominations from the Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA).

“This is an incredibly rare and huge achievement to anyone to be nominated for all four year of high school,” language arts teacher and debate coach Marissa Kuiken said of the event which took place, virtually, in February.

The success of Vanderloo and Braunstein was enough to qualify them to compete at the National Speech & Debate Association’s National Tournament, which will be held virtually in June.

“Carter and I qualified in the Duo Interpretation category,” Braunstein said. “Since it was prerecorded and shot in separate rooms over Zoom, we didn’t have to wear masks.”

Acting on Zoom? How did that work out?

“You feel like your laptop is your biggest competition,” Braunstein said. “You’re at the mercy of technology.”

Jacob Mace knows the feeling. An East 12th-grader, whose IHSSA success qualified him to compete in the Dramatic Interpretation category at Nationals, said he missed the immediate gratification that comes from a live performance.

“You get a lot of energy from an audience,” he said. “You can also see how a performance has moved the judges by seeing their reactions. You miss that when things are moved online.”

There is, however, an upside to the pandemic. Speech and debate kids can be creative when it comes to masks.

“I got to wear a mask with a see-through mouth,” Juan Fuentes said, modeling a mask that’s somewhat “Joker-esque” in appearance. “With this mask, people could see what I was saying.”

Like Vanderloo, Braunstein and Mace, senior Fuentes secured an all-state nod for choral reading at thus year’s IHSSA. Similar to Braunstein for his work in “Spamalot,” Fuentes was also nominated for “The Addams Family” in the musical theater category.

“Especially in the choral reading categories, you have to really be out there with your performance,” Fuentes explained.

That was especially challenging when he was a ninth-grader.

“I was really quiet back then,” Fuentes said. “(Being in speech and debate) has allowed me to break out of my shell.”

Braunstein nodded his head in agreement.

“When I see Jacob’s wit or Carter’s poise or Juan’s love of performing, it makes me want to raise my game,” he said.

Mace was also quick to credit coaches like Kuiken, Nate Irwin and Kindall Todd.

“They encourage us to try new things and to get out of our comfort zones,” he said.

Which isn’t too difficult to do, Kuiken said.

Like Vanderloo, Braunstein and Mace, senior Fuentes secured an all-state nod for choral reading at thus year’s IHSSA. Similar to Braunstein for his work in “Spamalot,” Fuentes was also nominated for “The Addams Family” in the musical theater category.

“Especially in the choral reading categories, you have to really be out there with your performance,” Fuentes explained.

That was especially challenging when he was a ninth-grader.

“I was really quiet back then,” Fuentes said. “(Being in speech and debate) has allowed me to break out of my shell.”

Braunstein nodded his head in agreement.

“When I see Jacob’s wit or Carter’s poise or Juan’s love of performing, it makes me want to raise my game,” he said.

Mace was also quick to credit coaches like Kuiken, Nate Irwin and Kindall Todd.

“They encourage us to try new things and to get out of our comfort zones,” he said.

Which isn’t too difficult to do, Kuiken said.

View the full article by Earl Horlyk on the Sioux City Journal.