ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
From the start, Allison Kunkel was a prime candidate for a successful career in high school forensics. She had at least one significant advantage over a lot of her peers.
“For some reason, I’ve never been too afraid to go up in front of people and do stuff,” said the Hillsboro High School senior. “It’s never been a big problem for me.”
Kunkel has parlayed that natural confidence into a successful run. She qualified for the state “champs” competition her first three years in informative speech, finishing as high as fourth.
This year, she’s already qualified for state in a whole new area: acting. She will compete in solo serious acting and also in duet acting with Kelli Just.
“I decided this year that I’d done informative (speeches) for the past three years and I got to state in that,” she said. “I liked doing that, but I figured maybe I should try some acting.”
“I like doing that, too,” she added. “Giving speeches is probably my strong point, but I decided I wanted to try acting.”
Kunkel said she knew already in eighth-grade that she wanted to give forensics a try in high school.
“There were a couple of people in high school I knew that were in it who told me it was a lot of fun and told me it was something I might be good at it,” she said. “So I decided to join.”
She was immediately drawn to informative speeches.
“I really like them because it’s really easy for me-and memorization is easy for me,” she said. “It’s easy for me to present ideas. I’m pretty articulate, so it’s not nerve wracking for me. It’s more information rather than acting. It’s clean cut and you know what you’re doing.”
Kunkel said she’s tried to pick speech topics that stand out from the ordinary.
“My freshman year I actually did it on outhouses-and it had a lot of humor in it,” she said. “A lot of the judges liked that and we were really responsive to that.
“My sophomore year it was on the power of words and how what you say can affect somebody completely,” she said.
“Last year, I did something on dreamers, which was about people whom everyone thought would fail-like Walt Disney, who was fired as a writer because he had a lack of ideas but ended up building Disney World.”
Kunkel said HHS forensics coach Terry Bebermeyer encourages his team members to find and write their own topics, but he’s ready to offer advice and expertise if needed.
“My freshman year I got a little more help from Mr. Bebermeyer as far as writing the speech,” she said. “We have to write our own speeches, obviously, but he gave me a little more direction because I hadn’t ever done it before.
“My sophomore and junior year I pretty much did it all by myself.”
Once the research is completed and the speech written, Bebermeyer is ready to offer feedback, Kunkel said.
“He looks over them and makes sure they’re logical and in order,” she said. “And we have to perform it in front of him before we compete so he can critique it and tell us what’s good and what’s not.”
The switch to acting this season has been a positive, stretching experience, Kunkel said.
For that competition, a solo actor has 10 minutes to perform and with a minimum of props-no costumes or makeup and only one chair. In duet acting, two chairs and a table are allowed.
“You just have to make do,” Kunkel said. “In times before, people have used stuff and they’ve gotten in trouble. One guy pulled something out of his pockets and his keys fell out and (the judges) counted him down for that.”
In Kunkel’s solo serious event, she plays a mother whose son has contracted AIDS and is returning to his hometown to die.
“Mr. Bebermeyer had that one in mind for me for the serious solo,” Kunkel said. “He had a complete play that was performed at his church by some people. He just took out the narrator’s part and made it into mine.”
Her duet performance with Just has a sobering theme, too. Kunkel plays a grown daughter who has been taking care of her aging mother when she finds some old love letters that her mother kept from her.
“She never gave them to me because she wanted me to stay,” she said. “It’s sad because I end up leaving her.”
Doing serious drama has been doubly challenging for Kunkel because she is by nature fun-loving and lighthearted.
“For a speech, you just go in there and do it,” she said. “With acting you have to kind of sit outside for a couple of minutes and think, ‘OK how am I going to do this?’
“Acting is a lot more difficult because I’m not always in the mood to do a serious play or spend 10 minutes trying to make myself cry. But you kind of have to every time because that’s what gets to the judges.”
Kunkel said winning first place at state obviously would be a great way to end her HHS career. But she’s been at state enough times to know that’s a difficult goal to achieve.
“That would be really nice, but getting into the finals is really a big deal, too,” she said. “My freshman year I didn’t even realize that. It would be nice to make it to finals because then you know you’ve beaten out a lot of people just to get there. That would be really cool.”
Kunkel said she’d recommend forensics to anyone who had any interest in it-even if speaking or performing in front of others isn’t as natural to them as it has been for her.
“I would say it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “You go to you meets and you’re there for an entire Saturday with a group of people who are a lot of fun. You get to watch their events, so you get really close to that group of people.
“Also, it does give you a lot of confidence. Even if you don’t do well, it’s not a big deal because you went, you performed in front of someone-and that’s something to be proud of. And it will help you in other areas.”
Kunkel said her experience in forensics has contributed to her development beyond competition.
“It helps you a lot in the rest of your life,” she said. “Giving speeches has given me a lot of confidence. Whenever they ask me to speak in front of the church or in front of school, I’m like OK, whatever.
“It’s helped me a lot, even interviewing for college because they realize this person can express herself. And that’s a big help.”