BLHS student competes at forensics nationals
There are no costumes, no props and sometimes no other actors in forensics.
A good performance is dependent upon one's own character, voice, emotions and gestures, but it comes pretty naturally to Basehor-Linwood High School junior Lauren McDonnell.
McDonnell was the only BLHS student to qualify and attend the National Catholic Forensic League's Grand National Tournament, which was in May in Houston. And, her road to nationals began with the discovery of the perfect piece.
BLHS forensics coach Rebecca Knowles said it's not always easy to find a piece worth performing.
"It takes a lot of time to find good forensics pieces because quality material is hard to come by," she said. "You look for good story lines and good characters to create. The main thing is it has to be a published work."
Surprisingly, McDonnell's winning piece "Amanda" seemed to fall right into her lap. On a shelf full of books with possible performance pieces in them in Knowles' room, two single pieces of paper stood by themselves.
"Miss Knowles had never even seen it," McDonnell said. "She didn't know where it came from."
"Amanda" is the name given to the child in the story who is kidnapped by a husband trying to please his wife, who is unable to conceive. When the couple tries to care for the child, it becomes deathly ill and they cannot take her to a doctor for fear they will get in trouble for the kidnapping. When they finally decide to take her to the hospital, they find out the child is allergic to dairy products and their efforts to care for the child had been killing her.
Coming from a family of 16 children, McDonnell said she knew this was the piece for her.
"It was kind of easy for me to cry in this piece because I'm around children every day," she said. "I just put myself in the position. When I performed it in front of my mom, dad and sisters, they were just in shock. They've never really seen me cry on the spot."
The ability to find a piece that stirred up real tears paid off because attempts to qualify for state in past years and different categories fell short of the mark. McDonnell said a duet performance in the qualifying tournament her first year in forensics landed her and her partner in 10th place, just a few places shy of qualifying for nationals. She has also tried improvisational duet acting, but her serious solo "Amanda" landed her in seventh place in the qualifying tournament this year, giving her an opportunity to participate in the national tournament.
"I took six total students to compete in the qualifying tournament," Knowles said. "They all made it into the final round, but Lauren was the only one who placed high enough to make it to nationals."
But, starting off, McDonnell said she wasn't as strong with the piece. The feedback from her performances in other tournaments throughout the year was less than helpful, and she described her placing as always "stuck in third." But she said the feedback she was looking for finally came after her performance at the national qualifier, and next tournament she placed first with "Amanda."
Taking first place in the tournament and receiving best actress and best forensicator from her peers at the year-end forensics banquet helped give her the encouragement she needed to head to Houston.
"Just having that totally boosted my confidence for nationals," she said.
McDonnell said nationals were much more intense than the regular tournaments throughout the semester. Instead of just "hanging out," she said, all participants were facing the walls, intently practicing their pieces.
And the judging was also more intense. McDonnell said she had to perform her piece four times in front of three to five different judges and was given barely enough time to recharge her tears between performances.
She was up against 250 other students in both serious and humorous solos. The top 48 performers in each category went on to the next round. Unfortunately for McDonnell, her name was not on the list.
"Historically we have yet to make it past the first day of competition, but we're hopeful," Knowles said. "We keep learning each time we go, so we're trying to gain some more skills. Lauren is a very talented individual. She worked very hard to compete at nationals, and I know that she has the drive to continue on. Hopefully she'll be back at nationals next year."
McDonnell said she would like to participate in forensics next year, but will also be focused on preparing for college.
"It was a good experience," she said. "It was definitely my favorite and most accomplished year."
For the year, the BLHS forensics team placed third in the Kaw Valley League, tenth out of 48 Class 4A schools at the state level and has been in the top 10 at state the past two years.
Knowles said she was looking forward to next year.
"I have a good group coming up next year that are going to be seniors, so I have great expectations for what they're going to do," she said.