Expressive 1010 1st Place
Professor: Dr. Kurt Harris
This was it, round three, the last round of the night. Everything I had worked for was coming down to this last judge, this last performance, this last round: round number three. Never had a drama competition been as insane or as scary as this. It was my junior year in high school and my second time at the Drama Competition.
Drama Competition happens once every year. High school students from all over the state come to Taylorsville High School to compete against each other with monologues (one person speaking), scenes (two people speaking), and pantomimes (no one speaking).
The competition consists of three rounds with three different judges. Each judge assigns a rank and a score. The highest score one can get is a “Superior.” It then follows down to an “Excellent,” a “Good,” and a “Fair,” being the lowest. The judge also ranks who is best in the group. For example, the best performance would get a 1, the next best would get a 2, etc. In order to medal at state, one must get three Superiors.
My scores at state my sophomore year were as follows: Round 1 – 2 Superior, Round 2 – 3 Superior, and Round 3 – 3 Excellent. Because of that last Excellent, my friend and I, who had performed a scene together, were one Superior short of medaling.
My junior year would be different. I decided to do a monologue because then I would have no one to blame but myself if I didn’t medal. The monologue was from Henry VI. I played the part of Joan of Arc as she rallied the people of France. Unfortunately, this monologue required a great deal of yelling and consequently had a negative impact on the state of my voice. Still, the monologue was powerful and showed a good range of my acting ability. So, regardless of the strain that the monologue put my voice under, I still decided to take it to state.
This was it, round three, the last round of the night. Everything I had worked for was coming down to this last judge, this last performance, this last round: round number three. I stepped up to the front of the room and began my introduction.
“Hi, my name is Carrie Colton, and I will be doing a monologue from the play Henry VI, Part One. I will be playing the part of Joan of Arc.”
I dropped my head to signal that I was going into character and then began my monologue.
Ok Care, build some tension, you can do it. Make them believe you. Good. Now jump on the block.
“Assigned am I to be the English Scourge! Join with me France, join with me!”
Hah! They jumped back, even the judge and ugh! Oh no, my voice is wearing out, and I still have another minute or so to keep yelling. No, not now, not round number three.
“We must strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help!” I yelled with everything I had left. “One drop of blood should grieve thee more than streams of foreign GOREeeeeeeeeeeeeh!”
I squeaked! I squeaked! I can’t believe I actually squeaked. I can’t push my voice anymore. It has nothing left.
I bowed my head to signal that I was exiting character and then took my seat in the audience.
My scores at Drama Competition were as follows: Round 1 – 1 Superior, Round 2 – 1 Superior, and Round 3 – 4 Excellent. Once again, I was one Superior short of winning a medal.
When judges give a score, they usually give commentary on the back of the score sheet illustrating their reasons for why they gave a certain score and ranking. My first judge informed me that I was brilliant and possessed everything that I needed for this character. My second judge concurred with the first, saying that he would pay big bucks to see me on a live stage. As for my third judge, all he said was that my voice was far too scratchy for the part.
What? Too scratchy. He said nothing about my acting ability, nothing about my costume, only about my voice. But that’s something I can’t change, or can I?
The following day after Drama Competition I asked my drama coach and my choral teacher if they knew why my voice was abnormally scratchy. I was thus directed to an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor, Dr. Palmer, who specialized in vocal cords. He examined my cords through a series of X-rays, scopes, and eventually surgery. The day he came to a conclusion is a day that I will never forget.
“I am very sorry, but after evaluating your throat, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to be done. You have a very rare but significant vocal disorder called vocal paralysis due to some scarring on your left cord. The scar on your cord restricts it from any movement.”
“Wait, I have a cord though. Can’t you fix it?” I asked earnestly.
“No,” he replied sadly. “No one can. This is permanent,”
“But when did it happen?”
“Well, other than this, you are perfectly healthy,” he said. “According to your medical records you always have been. I’m afraid you must have been born with it. I’m so sorry, but there is nothing that I can do.”
“But I’m an actress,” I told him. “I’m a singer; I need to have a healthy voice.”
“I’m surprised you have even made it this far being a performer,” he retorted. “The scarring prevents you from singing anything high, and it also adds a breathy rasp to your voice. My advice would be for you to give it up entirely. You will not be able to handle the rejection from directors. You need to face the facts; your voice is simply too scratchy for the theater.”
Dr. Palmer stood up, shook my hand, and wished me the best of luck. He then left the room. I, however, did not move for some time. I stayed where I was and cried. I cried for myself and for the death of my passion and dreams. I cursed the doctor, my injured vocal cord, and God. I kept thinking, why me? Why would God, if there is a God, give this passion and this talent, just to have it ripped away from me by my own weak body! Why me?Was my theater career really over? Was I really kicked out, not because of my acting ability, but because of my voice? I kept asking, why me?
My mother and father were just as devastated as I was. In response, they enrolled me in vocal therapy lessons at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Dr. Kara. I told Dr. Kara that I was an actress and didn’t want to give it up. I told her that I would be open to anything that she taught me and would follow all of her orders.
“Vocal therapy cannot fix your voice, Carrie,” she replied. “All it will do is help your one vocal cord to talk as if there are two. I cannot promise that you will be satisfied with your new voice, but I can promise that if you do everything that I tell you to, and I mean everything, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to be on stage.”
Naturally, I complied. For three months, I went through what Kara called “Vocal Boot Camp.” Every day I was required to do a series of warm-ups, exercises, and vocal techniques. I was also required to be mute at least two hours before I went to bed at night and completely mute on Sundays. I was also given speeches from Kara to work on my acting technique and projection without damaging my voice. She always told me that I might not be able to fix my cords, but I can always fix my acting.
The three months were brutal. I can’t even count the number of times I couldn’t play with friends, sing in choir, or speak at church. The frustration mounted to the point that I thought I would just scream. Still, the memory of how much I wanted to be an actress prevented me from doing what I was instructed not to, and eventually my voice and my acting improved.
My next year in school I was elected as drama club president, got the lead in the school play, and even got the lead in the school musical. Even then, what I really wanted more than anything was to medal at Drama Competition, and soon enough, the time came.
It was now my senior year. I had one last chance to medal and that was it. I decided to do another monologue; I couldn’t take any chances. Still, finding the right monologue became a grueling process. I read plays, surfed the web, and consulted fellow actors, but I just could not find the perfect monologue. The monologue I was looking for had to be powerful enough to shake my audience and force them to look past my injured voice and see a story. The story had to be more important; it had to be brilliant. Well, it took me a long time, but I found it. It came to me in the most unlikely place of all.
While at home, reading through some of my ancestral genealogy, I came across a story about my great-great-great Grandma Alice Colton. She was the wife of a very wicked man who abused her both mentally and physically. I learned that Alice had cursed fate, her upbringing, and especially God for giving her such an awful man to live with. Her husband ended up dying from alcohol abuse, but before he did, Alice found out she was pregnant, and after he was gone, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Emily. Alice went on to write that Emily’s favorite song was “You are my sunshine,” and that every night she would sing to her to express her appreciation for this piece of sunshine that came into her gray life. Unfortunately, Emily was born with cancer and died soon after she was born. Alice went on to say that she didn’t understand why God had given her something so amazing and so wonderful, just to have it taken away.
I related to Grandma Alice more than anything or anyone I had before. I wrote a monologue about the day that Alice lost Emily. It started with a phone call from the cancer doctor and ended with me singing “You are my Sunshine” to a dead baby girl. I wept over a fake doll, but it felt so real. I pored out all of my personal frustration upon that doll. The personal connection I had with this story brought my acting to a completely new level. I honestly felt like I became this mother when I performed that monologue. My vocal disorder had utterly transformed me into another person. I was now ready for Drama Competition, and this time nothing was going to stand in my way.
This was it, round three, the last round of the night. Everything I had worked for was coming down to this last judge, this last performance, this last round: round number three. Never had a drama competition been as important and as meaningful as this. It was my senior year in high school and my final time at the Drama Competition.
“Hi, my name is Carrie Colton, and I will be doing a monologue from the book The Drunkard. I will be playing the part of Alice Colton.”
Once again I bowed my head to signal that I was going into character. I raised my head, a new person, and began.
Ok, answer the phone.
“What do you mean something is wrong with Emily.”
Look distressed. Show them; show the audience your pain. Remember the day when Doctor Palmer told you your bad news. Good, show them that pain.
“You mean my little girl’s got cancer, but that can’t be. . .”
Excellent. Now hang up the phone. Pick up Emily. Rock her. Hold her. You know that this will be the last time you hold your baby, your dream. Uh oh, realize that something is wrong.
“Emily. Emily, are you okay sweetie? Emily wake up! Emily wake up! God, no, don’t take her from me!”
She’s dead! Scream! Curse God!
“Why me? Why me?”
Project, don’t yell. Don’t hurt your voice, and don’t squeak. Use your exercises. You know how to do this. Very good. That didn’t hurt at all. Now sing to her. Let it out how much you love her and how you would give anything to have her back, anything.
“You’ll never know dear, how much I loved you. Oh please don’t take my sunshine away. Oh please don’t take my little girl away.”
Cry! Cry like the day you lost your dream. She’s gone and she’s not coming back. Good, now end it.
I lowered my head to exit character and raised it to a room full of tears and silence. It was broken by the judge who stood up out of his seat to give me a standing ovation.
My scores for the day were as follows: Round 1 – 1 Superior, Round 2 – 1 Superior, and Round 3 – 1 Superior! I had received a perfect score. Not only did I medal, but I was chosen by the judges to perform in front of all the performers at Drama Competition that day. After my performance, my third-round judge approached me to congratulate me on my flawless performance. He also wanted to know what happened to Alice at the end of the book. I told him that she got remarried, forgave God, and at the age of forty-two gave birth to another girl whom she named Emily.
I cannot say that I would not give the world to have a healthy voice, because I would. I still rest my voice over twenty-six hours a week, take over six medications, and do one hour of vocal warm-ups every morning. I have also made my high school’s Madrigal Choir, received the Drama Hall of Fame “Best Actress” award, and became a state finalist at the Sterling Scholar Drama/Speech Competition. Why me? I may never know. All I know is that “impossible” is a word that is not in my dictionary. God, if there is a God, would never give me a passion and talent just to have it taken away by my own weak body. But he might have built for me an especially thick brick wall, which, because I have broken through, has made me the person, the singer, and the actress I am today.
And who knows? Science is always making new discoveries. Maybe someday they will be able to break through their brick wall, and I’ll have a healthy voice at last.