STERLING – The veins nearly burst in junior Abby Nitz’s neck. About a minute later, senior Kinsey Zacharski is inches from Nitz’s face, engulfed in anger, frustration, and desperation.
This is escape for the performers, and a state competition-worthy performance for the Speech Team state championship that kicks off today at Peoria Civic Center.
They’re playing sisters in “The Downpour,” a gripping play crafted by Caitlin Parrish in which Zacharski’s character is telling her sister she’s 2 months pregnant, tapping a nerve of their mother’s – and thus their – troubled past.
“It takes you to a different world,” says Nitz, who’s about to make her second appearance at state, and her first since being part of the Performance in the Round group that made it her freshman year. “You’re relating, in your mind, to a different character. It’s refreshing after a long day of schoolwork and work. It might not seem like we’re letting off stress through that piece.”
For Zacharski, this a timely first taste of the highest level of high school competition in Illinois.
She feels better as we chat.
“You’re letting off your stress through the stress of the other character,” Kinsey said. “You have to internalize your character.”
Dillon Nitz, who is the school’s second state qualifier and first entrant in extemporaneous speaking, can’t believe what his sister’s just done.
“I couldn’t do that, definitely,” Dillon said. “I’m not an emotional guy.”
A couple of weeks ago, he could be found in his suit on the bus, en route to the sectional competition, his nose deep into research on – why not? – Taiwan.
“He was born in his suit,” said Chuck Price who, along with is wife, Jill, coaches the team.
Dillon is an insatiable researcher, so when he drew the topic of the Italian economy at sectionals, and had to craft a 6-minute speech about it, he was ready to rock.
Credit his aptitude to an election cycle that left him eager, not anxious.
“I see a lot of stupidity and people not knowing what’s going on; I like to know what’s going on,” he said. “From both sides of the aisle, I wish people would know exactly what’s going on before they talk about it,” “A lot of people say what they feel is going on, instead of knowing what’s actually going on. Knowledge is power.”
So is experience. Ask Abby Gunderson, a senior who’s seeking her first finals berth at state – reserved for the top five finishers in preliminaries.
She’s got two shots: her oratorical declamation titled “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” and her original comedy piece, “The ‘Write’ Story.”
It took her a while to land on the “Write” original story, after crafting about a dozen works before finally bringing one home about 2 weeks before the team’s first meet in early December.
“I think I drafted 12 different [original comedy pieces] before I got the one I wanted,” “Starting in September, I kept writing stuff down, starting it and not finishing it.”
She’s spent the season working with the Prices to tweak, refine and perfect the performance. She pops cleanly between the three characters – a fledgling children’s book author, her publisher and her creativity – while drawing belly laughs.
“It’s changed a lot,” she says. “I have my first draft, and then we tweaked something the next week, and the next week, and the next week. I’ve been editing the whole season and playing with it to see what works and what doesn’t work. We made some changes like 2 days before sectionals, and they were a hit.
“It’s all just very fluid.”
You can stay tuned at ihsa.org to see how the Sterling Speech Team does at state the next couple of days, or you can see them compete live at 201 SW Jefferson St., Peoria. Here are the events in which your Golden Warriors will compete, with preliminary times and rooms.
Dramatic duo acting
Kinsey Zacharski and Abby Nitz perform “Downpour” by Caitlin Parrish, 3 p.m. today, 11 a.m. Saturday, Room 404
Dillon Nitz speaks on a topic to be determines, 1:35 p.m. today, 9:45 a.m. Saturday, Room 210
Abby Gunderson performs “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost),” 3 p.m. today, 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Room 406
Gunderson performs her original piece, “The ‘Write’ Story,” 4:30 p.m today, 11 a.m. Saturday, Room 222