Experimental Public Speaking

December 22, 2008
By Alecsandra Washburn, Old Town, ME

I look at the stage in front of me and my body is seized by a fear that, until now, was entirely foreign to me. My mind wanders from the wooden platform before me and I find myself sitting beside Winston Smith in Room 101 faced with hundreds of hungry rats encroaching upon us, then I’m soaring through the clouds with Yossarian as my pilot while German bombers ambush our aircraft. Stepping back into the present I start to think that my situation could be as fatalistic as my fictional comrade’s. Like them, I have no choice but to move forward, to venture into the unknown blindfolded. The crowd sits at the edge of their seats waiting for me. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and step out onto the stage ready to face fate.

As an underclassman I had never dreamed that I might one day be performing the comedic works of Cosby and Barry before an audience. Performing in my school’s Junior Prize Speaking Exhibition seemed an unattainable feat that was far out of my reach. When the winter of my junior year of high school rolled around, the whole school was abuzz with guesswork over which lucky juniors would make up the exhibitions seven finalists. On the morning of audition day, I walked into my English classroom and found the day’s reading assignment on my desk, a composite of Ralph Waldo Emerson works. As I read I came across a line that stood out amongst all the rest, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better”. These words decided my fate and they encouraged me to do something I had not dreamed doable; they persuaded me to experiment with the Junior Prize auditions.

To my surprise, I made the final seven and was uncharacteristically not nervous about the future performance. During hours of practice sessions and rehearsals I managed to keep my calm and not worry about the exhibition. I held onto this Zen state until I arrived at the school on performance night and learned that I was the night’s final performer, and then I panicked. The other finalists speeches seemed to fly by at light speed and all too soon it came time for my on stage debut. As I strode towards the stage, fear hit me like a bomb and my hands began to shake as if suffering from the shockwaves of the explosion. Much too quickly I was standing center stage as the lights began to rise. For a split second I stood staring out at the crowd fearing that the Nazi’s had won and that I had crumbled as did the Maginot Line. After all those long hours practicing and memorizing it seemed a shame that I was a trigger-shy Yossarian, unwilling to fire my weapon.

Then, all of a sudden, I felt my jaw moving as words somehow escaped my lips. I could hear the audience laughing and the other finalists trying not to chuckle offstage but another noise captivated more of my attention. It was a sound resounding from center stage that seemed to be echoing through the room with a proud and confident tone delivering line after line of comedic anecdotes. The voice reminded me of the assertive O’Brien’s as he interrogated Winston Smith but I knew that this voice wasn’t fictional. Somehow I recognized this voice for my own. No longer was it a voice filled with the nerves of a shaking prisoner, it was a voice overflowing with the confidence of a self-assured young woman.

Various literary mentors have taught me one essentially important lesson about myself; I can be everything their characters never dreamed of. I can seize the pilot’s wheel and fight against the Axis and I can handle all the trials that I’ll ever have to face in Room 101. Unlike Yossarian and Winston I know how to take conscious control of my life, instead of forcing my way as a defeatist living virtually brain dead. Today, my Junior Prize Speaking trophy sits atop a bookshelf in my bedroom amongst uncertain characters that were never willing to test out life’s opportunities. As I stare at my bookshelf I am surer than ever that I am nothing like these literary “heroes” because I’m not ready to let life pass me by. I’m ready to experiment with Emerson.

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