From left: Danny Brady, Micah Cook, Steaven McKnight and Kara Whitehead in their Drama, Debate and Forensics Reader’s Theatre performance. Cook, playing the U.S. representative to a United Nations climate change conference, is being asked to explain some of President Donald Trump’s tweets. Whitehead plays the reporter, while Brady and McKnight are recording the event on cellphones. PHOTO BY JEFF BRADY


Skagway’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team brought a barrage of winning performances to the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska DDF State Championships in Anchorage, held from Feb. 22-24.

The local students won the Division 2 Forensics State Championship Award, individual state title wins for Danny Brady’s Expository Speech and Oration and a state title  for the Reader’s Theatre performance by Kara Whitehead, Micah Cook, Steaven McKnight and Brady.

Skagway’s DDF team accepts the Division 2 Forensics State Championship Award. PHOTO BY JEFF BRADY

Skagway’s Reader’s Theatre was a well-received piece at the Anchorage competition, and DDF co-coach Kent Fielding said it performed well throughout the entire season.

“It was one of those pieces as a coach, and you don’t have a lot of the throughout your career, one of those pieces where you think, ‘yeah, I think this one’s going to win state,’” Fielding said.

Skagway’s piece is a different sort of beast compared to other Reader’s Theatre performances in Alaska, with co-coach Jonathan Baldwin saying it straddled the razor’s edge of pushing boundaries while being an approachable topic for audiences and judges.

What’s more, many Reader’s Theatres come from a single source, Fielding said, usually from a play or script shortened to fit the needed format.

“Instead of being taken from one script, in the rules it states that you can kind of gather from multiple different published sources, so it doesn’t even have to be scripts,” Brady said. Skagway’s piece was compiled from 26 different sources, which included the tweets of President Donald Trump, radio shows and the poems of climate change activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

The Reader’s Theatre, a piece on climate change, breaks down into several main points. The first of these is to put a face on the real people impacted by natural disasters.

“When we hear about Hurricane Sandy, when we hear about Irma, when we hear about Katrina or Harvey…or when you hear about flooding in the Middle East, instead of looking at that, it’s [the Reader’s Theatre piece] more going deeper and telling the stories of the people who lived in those regions,” Brady said.

Cook said Americans can be apathetic when it comes to things outside of the country, but putting a face and name to an event it helps humanize those caught amidst these types of tragedies.

A second point the piece touches on is conflicts impacted or instigated by climate change. Brady gave the Syrian Civil War as an example, saying droughts in Syria could be connected to the beginning of the conflict.

In the Expository Speaking category, Sadie Murphy brought a piece to Anchorage on the polio virus, which made fifth in the finals. Murphy said she chose the topic because of her uncle, who has polio, and who does a lot of fundraising and speeches for the disease.

Zach Breen performed an Oration on the topic of humanity’s connection to the natural world through science, and also partnered with McKnight in a Pantomime duo. Breen had taken a break from DDF in his junior year, and said he was glad that he’d come back for one final season, and that the activity lets students learn about different and interesting topics and meet other students from around the state.

“I enjoyed it, I’m glad I did it,” Breen said.

McKnight also performed and placed fifth in the Extemporaneous Commentary event, which gives students a scant 20 minutes to prepare a five-minute, off-the-cuff speech on a random topic. While McKnight said he doesn’t know too many students that enjoy that particular category, he said if “you do it enough and you force yourself to get good at it, you will learn to enjoy it.”

Two of Skagway’s students have the opportunity to go to the national DDF competitions. Brady qualified to bring either his Oration or his Expository Speech to the National Speech and Debate Association’s competition, while Whitehead’s Oration – which placed third at state – automatically qualifies her for the Catholic Forensic League National Competition in Washington D.C.

Zach Breen (left) and Steaven McKnight (right) perform a Pantomime at the state competition.

Attending national competitions, where the best from across the country perform for judges and their peers, can lead to a significant advantage for returning students, as it gives them a chance to obverse and absorb some of the high-level performing and speaking skills on display.

“Then you’re swimming in the big pond,” co-coach Jonathan Baldwin said. “Even if you get squashed in nationals you’re going to learn.”

While Brady still has another potential DDF season in front of him, Whitehead – who went to nationals in Alabama last year – will be graduating this semester, along with three other members of the team.

With only two students returning, the coaches will be looking for new recruits to join the team.

Baldwin encouraged students to join the program, even if they are involved with other activities, and said the coaches could be flexible with schedules.

“It looks great on a resume,” Fielding said, adding that colleges regard DDF participation highly during the application process. “Because what it tells colleges is that these students have developed analytical reading and writing skills, which will make them successful at the college level.”