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  • Last modified 1362 days ago (Feb. 19, 2015)

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Judge for a day

Oh, the crushing responsibility that comes with being placed in a seat of judgment — at least for me. Yes me, Oliver J. Good, Marion High School alumnus and news reporter, in a position to judge. Scary thought.

Truth be told, it blew my mind when I was recently invited to be a judge. Me? Little old me, a bona fide judge, not of right and wrong or good and evil, but rather an adjudicator of the arts at Thursday’s forensics tournament hosted at Marion High School.

As a former high school forensics student, I knew just how nerve racking it can be to be judged at that age, especially during solo events, one-on-one in a room with a complete stranger, who is there for no other reason than to judge your aspiring ability or lack thereof.

Now, I was the complete stranger.

As I strolled the hallways before the first round, I tried not to ogle the kids facing lockers or staring into space at an invisible audience as they anxiously rattled off lines, I was transported back into the soft focus of my “glory days,” and all the melodramatic agony I caused myself. All that time I spent rehearsing a performance at the last minute… If I had just practiced more!

I was terrified. I just hoped the kids were more prepared than I was back in the day.

As a judge, I was tasked with a request to offer constructive criticism to those performing when I scored and rated them, and I found that this is really tougher than it sounds.

In the first round, I judged three performances, one of which involved one person who was supposed to act like two. Without much differentiation in tone of voice or gesture and mannerism, it was hard for me to tell which character was speaking. The performer fired off lines at such a blindingly semi-automatic (if not fully automatic) pace that I lost the narrative.

However, at one point I had to take an active part in the skit when I said, “It’s OK, slow down, take your time and start again when you’re ready.” This came after an eruption of silence in a line forgotten.

In all fairness, I did witness some talented kids throughout the day who created the illusion of a character. There was a natural rhythm to their speech as well as a broad range of body language and facial expression. Though some resorted to a hammed up accent or an endearing impression of a stock stereotype, it didn’t bother me much. They were easy to judge. They were entertaining. And although all the kids were still learning how to act, some just communicated the abstract idea of a persona more proficiently.

For others, there were times I wished I had a buzzer — or a gong.

“Now, now,” a little voice in my head said, “That’s not constructive criticism. The ‘gong’ is a potential destroyer.”

This thought came after the second round in which I witnessed several teams break down into stage-violence during an IDA — an improvised event. Uh-oh, here comes another flashback.

I remembered how a teammate and I always resorted to poorly executed pro-wrestling moves like the ever-apocalyptic tombstone pile-driver if we ran out of not-so-clever things to say.

We never won. Neither did the acts I judged that resorted to violence. But hey, at least we tried. That says something. Right? Sure it does. It takes courage to do something strange for an audience.

Therefore, my gong became “Think about grunting more if you are supposed to be a barbarian,” or “Scarecrows don’t have to just hang in there, they can also be set on fire.”

For most acts, it boiled down to: keeping practicing, keep studying, keep on keeping on, and you will get it.

In the end, I concluded that the judge’s conundrum is a matter of tact. Even if you want to, you can’t just give an A for effort to everyone when talent is on the line. All you can do is applaud and offer productive suggestions no matter how bizarre those ideas might be.

—oliver good

Last modified Feb. 19, 2015

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