Brothers get their act together as improvising duo

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Now in his third year in the Goessel High School forensics program, Ryan Janzen is discovering that familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt. It can also breed success.

After competing in improvised duet acting only one time as freshman and then several times as a sophomore, this year Janzen has qualified for state in that event for the first time in his career-in fact, he’s qualified twice, having finished first in two area tournaments.

Janzen is not only familiar with the challenges of IDA, he’s pretty familiar with his performance partner, too.

It’s younger brother Evan, a sophomore.

“It’s a fun experience,” Ryan said about teaming up Evan. “I think being brothers kind of gives us an advantage because we kind of know how each other thinks and reacts in different situations. So we can read off each other and play off each other that much more.”

Knowing how an acting partner reacts is a huge help in an unscripted event like IDA. For competition, each two-person team draws three characters, three situations and settings.

From those possibilities, a team will select two characters, one situation and one setting-and then has 30 minutes to come up a with four- to seven-minute skit that incorporates all of those elements.

“Sometimes you can get things that go together well, and then other times you get things that don’t go together at all, but you have to make them work,” Janzen said.

Usually, the skits the Janzen brothers come up with have a humorous bent.

“It’s really hard to get the right draw so you can make a serious one,” he said. “For the most part they’re humorous. That’s usually what I like to do anyway. I don’t like the serious stuff as much.”

Janzen traces his start in forensics to getting a lead part in his eighth-grade school play.

“That kind of got me introduced to acting and got me excited about that, and one way I could keep going with it was through forensics,” he said.

As a freshman, Janzen competed mostly in oral interpretation of poetry, in which he recited a poem of his choosing-and made it to the finals in one tournament. The following year, he tried poetry again and also teamed in IDA with Evan, then a freshman.

The brothers qualified for state the first time this season by placing first at a tournament hosted by Peabody-Burns. They placed first again a week ago Saturday at Hutchinson.

Last year’s IDA experience is definitely paying off this season, Janzen said.

“In IDA it helps you realize that when you get some of these bad draws, you have to think outside of the box,” he said. “You have to think of the most outrageous thing you can work with.

“Once, we drew for our place ‘At the creek,’ and with what else we drew we had no way to figure out how we could make it be a creek,” he said. “So we made ‘At the creek’ be the name of a radio station and we made it work that way.”

Janzen said participating in forensics has been a good experience for him.

“It’s taught me a lot about just going up and talking in front of people, and how to think on my feet a little bit,” he said.

His coach, Sheila Buller, said Janzen has been a strong member of her 11-person squad in this her first year at the helm.

“He’s just really good at coming up with things off the top of his head, and of course that’s what IDA is,” he said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm for it.”

But Janzen’s contributions go beyond being his talent.

“He’s willing to come in and work on things,” she said. “He likes to help set up the tournaments, and he helped set up the tab room when we had our invitational tournament. He knows the ins and outs of forensics quite well, so he’s always a good person to have help as well as perform.”

In addition to his IDA work this year, Janzen also is competing in oral interpretation of prose. He said he doesn’t feel any pressure to qualify for state in that event, too.

“It doesn’t matter if I do or not-I’m already going,” he said. “It would be nice, but it’s no big deal.”

Janzen said he’d recommend forensics for some of his classmates, but it’s not for everybody.

“It takes away a whole Saturday,” he said. “You’ve got to wake up at 6 or 6:30 and be on the road by 7 on Saturday-and you don’t get back until like 4:30.

“You have to be willing to make that sacrifice, but when you go there you do meet some interesting people.”

How interesting?

“A slogan I’ve seen on one team’s shirt is, ‘We spend our Saturdays with people who talk, yell and scream at walls.'”

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