Editor’s note: This story is presented in screenplay style. Follow along as a nascent reporter delves into Van-Far’s speech competition.
S T A R M A N
INT. NEWSROOM. NIGHT
A small-town newspaper office. A large room, brightly lit, with empty work stations cluttered with papers from earlier in the day.
The reporter, CLAY COLEMAN, feet on the desk next to an empty Red Bull, looks over at the computer monitor.
A computer screen with a message from MR. OESCH, Van-Far’s Speech Team coach.
Here’s the schedule for tomorrow if you decide to come. Text me when you arrive, and I can give you the rundown. This is at Mexico High School.
Sorry, but I must have missed something. What’s this for again?
Districts, on March 7 in Mexico, which will determine who goes on to State.
Who’s going to Districts?
EXT. MEXICO HIGH SCHOOL. DAY
A three-story brick high school, located a few blocks from the center of town. The parking lot only has a few vehicles.
Shutting his car door, Clay slings his camera bag over his shoulder and walks towards a set of doors. The doors are locked. He climbs a set of stairs to a single door, which is also locked. Sighing, he walks around the building and stops in front of a statue of a bulldog.
Mexico high school’s mascot. A knee-high statue of a bulldog sitting on a pedestal, with the word Champ underneath. The rocks in front of the statue have words on them that are difficult to read.
Staring at the bulldog for a few moments, Clay turns and looks at his car, then back at the bulldog.
INT. SCHOOL CAFETERIA. DAY
Long tables set side by side, covered with lunch bags, bottled water, and loose-leaf paper. Teenagers are milling around in small groups. Adults sit quietly in lunchroom chairs. The boys are wearing ties and dark sports jackets—the girls in skirts, or dark pantsuits.
Clay searches for a familiar face among the teenagers. Reaching the opposite end of the room, he turns and begins walking back, when HARLEY YOUNG walks up to him.
Mr. Oesch said you were coming today.
Do you know where he is?
He’s upstairs grading an event. He’ll be down in a minute.
A table covered with Slim Jim wrappers, a case of water, telephones, and pink and blue lunch bags. Seated around the table are MICHAEL ALLEN, CAMERON JONES, HARLEY, TREVOR WINDERS, KIERA HAYDEN, LYNN COOMER, LAYLA OGDEN, and PARKER HULL.
They are playing a game of Charades with Layla’s telephone. She puts the phone to her forehead as they laugh and make her guess the word on the screen. In between each word, they look down at papers strewn about the lunch table.
(looking at the case of water)
Does anyone want a soda?
A small room adjacent to the cafeteria. Empty serving trays are stacked next to a cash register. An older lady, wearing a red baseball cap, sits in front of the register. A piece of cake with a plastic fork sticking out the top rests in front of her.
(reaching into his pocket)
How much for the soda?
The energy is pretty amazing around here. I’m doing a story about these kids.
She doesn’t say anything as Clay hands her the money. He nods and starts to walk away.
These kids are pretty smart!
Clay walks back to the table where the kids were playing their game. A couple of them have run off somewhere, while the rest study their notes. Trevor suddenly looks up and spots someone on the far side of the room.
Here comes Mr. Oesch.
Mr. Oesch approaches the table. He is wearing khakis, a button-down black shirt, with Van-Far on the pocket. He is holding a sheet of paper in his hand.
(putting out his hand)
Glad you could make it. Here’s a list breaking down today’s events.
Mr. Oesch hands Clay the sheet of paper with the list of names:
Layla Ogden Humorous Interpretation
Lynn Coomer Poetry
Kiera Hayden Prose
Cameron Jones Radio
Trevor Winders Original Oratory
Kiera Hayden and Harley Young Duo Interpretation
Trevor Winders and Parker Hull Duet Acting
This is what I need. Can I sit in on any events?
I’d sit in on Duo Interpretation. That’s where the kids act out scenes without looking or touching each other. It’s kind of like a pantomime, where the team acts out all the parts and uses humor to tell a story based on a fable or fairy tale. Come back after lunch, and I’ll let you know where you need to go.
INT. MEXICO HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM. DAY
A small classroom on the second floor of the high school. Rows of evenly spaced chairs face the chalkboard in front of the class.
Clay sits in a far corner in the back row. Two evaluators are also sitting in the back row. One is a teacher from another school—the other works at a local radio station. Both stare down at their evaluation sheets.
(staring at the disc jockey)
So, uh, how does someone land a gig for an event like this?
The disc jockey cracks a smile as he leans into the sheet of paper, refusing to look up.
The only other people in the room, two boys going on after Kiera and Harley, sit next to each other, watching the chalkboard.
The doorknob turns counterclockwise, as Kiera and Harley quietly enter the room. They calmly walk to the front of the class and write their names on the chalkboard. Turning to the evaluators, they wait for permission to begin, as Clay sits up in his seat, intently watching the two.
The girls begin to act out multiple scenes involving dragons and wizards and sisterhood. The more animated they get, the more his eyes widen. They act with everything they have: jumping up and down, changing the inflection in their voices, pleading with the imaginary audience in one scene, while fighting off demons in the other. On and on, for 10 minutes, the girls act with everything they have. When they’re finished, Clay raises his arms in the air and starts applauding. The evaluators silently write on their evaluation sheets. The two boys waiting their turn, look pale and confused.
INT. MEXICO HIGH SCHOOL CAFETERIA. DAY
Back at the lunchroom table, the kids are excitedly talking among themselves. Mr. Oesch is gone, evaluating another performance. Clay, still awestruck by the girls’ performance, stands up and looks at the group.
You guys made my day. The only thing left is to get a picture.
The kids stand up and move the lunch bags to the far end of the table. Then, sitting next to each other, they face Clay as he stands upon a chair at the foot of the table.
I need you all to look up at me and smile. Are you ready?
The kids nod in unison as he aims the camera in their direction.
(pointing to Parker)
The sun is reflecting off your glasses, Starman. Can’t you do anything about that?
What’s a Starman?
It’s the name of a David Bowie song. He’s singing about someone from outer space, waiting to come down to Earth and show people the way. But you kids already have him.
INT. NEWSROOM. NIGHT
Back in the newsroom, Clay looks at an incoming message from Mr. Oesch on his computer screen.
Harley Young got fourth in Storytelling.
Layla Ogden got sixth in Humorous Interpretation.
Lynn Coomer got fourth in Poetry.
Kiera Hayden got second in Prose.
Cameron Jones is District Champion in Radio.
Trevor Winders is District Champion in Original Oratory.
Kiera Hayden and Harley Young are District Champions in Duo Interpretation.
Trevor Winders and Parker Hull are District Champions in Duet Acting.
Kiera, Harley, Cameron, Parker, and Trevor were in the top-two of their events, so they all are state qualifiers.
I can’t begin to tell you how happy that makes me.