How at-home speech and debate tournaments have turned me into an activist

September 9, 2020 — by Anouk Yeh

Every Saturday morning, I make sure that I wake up before everyone in my family. Despite the beckoning of a promising weekend day, I immediately lock all my doors and screw all my window blinds shut, making sure that nothing from the outside world can see what is happening in my room.

Although my weekend ritual might seem to stem from an obsessive desire for secrecy (or unresolved teenage angst), the truth is quite the opposite. 

In reality, my actions come from a place of social activism and utilitarianism. They stem from a place of morality, of wanting to save my family from accidentally getting a glimpse of me performing my speech for a virtual weekend tournament.

Ever since the beginning of quarantine, all speech and debate tournaments have gone virtual over Google Meet or Zoom. With the switch to online tournaments, many competitors have had to adjust to performing their speeches in their rooms and, most scarily, in close vicinity to their parents and siblings. For those who compete in “polite society” events like Debate or Original Oratory, this might not seem too horrible of a thing, but for me, it was an earth-shattering change.

For context, I compete in an event called Program Oral Interpretation, where competitors perform an argumentative script woven together from multiple characters from different pieces of literature. If that definition doesn’t make sense, just imagine the move “The Wizard of Oz” — except this time, July Garland not only plays Dorothy, but also the Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow, Wizard, Good Witch, Wicked Witch and all 87 of the munchkins. 

Yeah, exactly.

In addition to having to constantly pop among different characters in my speech, per my coach’s instructions, I also have to fall to the ground at the 7-minute mark and cry through a good half minute more of my lines after doing so — all for dramatic effect.

Although most people within the sanctity of the speech and debate community wouldn’t bat an eye at my performance, I know it would be a completely different story if someone unfamiliar with the activity — like my mother — walked in on me.

In every recurring nightmare I’ve had about a speech and debate pagan walking in on me, my speech has always been likened to something between the lines of (at best) a Disney channel audition gone awry and (at worst) an interpretative, verbalized version of Sean Spicer’s “Dancing with the Stars” salsa routine. 

What I’m trying to say is that if someone who is unfamiliar with speech and debate accidentally caught a glimpse of my speech while off-guard, they’d probably be emotionally scarred for a good portion of their week, if not a month. Even if there’s no internal scarring, the sight would probably make them at least question their sanity just a little bit — an additional burden no one needs in the already hazy quarantine season.

Recognizing these implications on an at-home season, I’ve taken it upon myself to channel my inner activist and save the sight and sanity of my family members — one locked door at a time. 

 

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