Curran combines talent with hard work as all-state speech performer

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All-state individual speech performer, Central junior Keeley Curran, was nominated for two categories: acting and prose. Curran performed at the All-State Festival at UNI on March 25. (Photo courtesy of Central Tatler)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The recent nomination of Central junior Keeley Curran to All-State for not one, but two, events in individual speech is an accomplishment she was “very surprised” to achieve.


“My ultimate goal was to go to All-State. That’s typically what everyone aims for, but I truly wasn’t expecting it,” she said.


Keeley, at one time, was “too scared” to try individual speech, focusing instead on large group speech when she started as a freshman. There was something about competing on stage alone that was a bit frightening. But during her sophomore year, after some convincing from speech coach Carolyn Yanda, who noted Keeley’s “natural talent,” she decided to give it a try along with friend Isabelle White.


While this might seem odd for someone who has acted in several plays and musicals throughout high school—including the recent Mean Girls and last year’s SpongeBob—those performances were always in a group, surrounded by other people. The spotlight was spread around. 


Choosing to take up individual speech was an opportunity for Keeley to see what she could do on her own on stage.


Coming into this year, Keeley focused on two categories: acting and prose. Acting is rather self-explanatory, given her history on stage. It’s also fun and familiar. Prose, however, was a new choice, replacing lit program, which she did last year. It was another chance to do something different, unlike the typical dramatic or comedic pieces she is most comfortable with.


“I chose acting because I’m good at it and it’s fun, and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try an emotional piece in prose,” Keeley explained.


Though she has the talent, Keeley was also dedicated to the craft. Work ethic punctuated the already innate talent. 


In fact, Yanda stated she “worked exceptionally hard” this year, which included practicing four to six times per week, often before school, which far exceeded the two practices that were expected. This was on top of juggling work, school, homework, other extracurriculars and day-to-day life, which makes the accomplishment all the more notable.


There were challenges in delivering two different and diametrically opposed performances, because you have to alter your mood for each performance. It also requires utilizing different movements, expressions and articulations.


For instance, Keeley’s acting piece was a cute comedy about a girl who gets upset when she is given the understudy role of Juliet, while her crush was given the part of Romeo. To make matters worse, she is also jealous of the girl selected to play Juliet. The piece showcases numerous emotions with a fair bit of physical miming because all Keeley could have on stage with her was a chair.


“I had to mime many props and I focused really hard on miming going up and down a ladder because the smallest details can make the difference,” Keeley said. “I worked really hard this year and I tried to practice every day and sometimes multiple times a day with Ms. Yanda and then on my own time as well.”


On the opposite end of the spectrum is the prose piece, where a narrator talking about his crippled brother, Doodle, who he pushed to “be normal” because he was ashamed. As the performance reveals, the brother pushed Doodle too hard, which led to his death.  


“I wanted the audience to learn that you cannot push someone to be what you think is normal because you’ll miss the moments with them when they were themselves,” Keeley said.


Heading into state at Hampton-Dumont High School on March 9, though Keeley had performed well up to that point, she admitted there were some nerves, and maybe even a little bit of shaking, given the amount of people sitting in the audience. Getting on stage can seem like a daunting task, but Keeley has been there before, under the lights, with all eyes in the building watching. Rather than wilt, she rose to the occasion.


Once the performance started, she got into the story and character. What should have felt like a performance, no longer did. It was an opportunity to become the characters Keeley practiced for months, grab the audience’s attention and make them feel the emotions of the characters.


“I performed my best at state because, before I performed, I watched another girl’s acting piece and it was very good. This made me realize that I needed to step up my game, so I performed to the best of my ability,” Keeley said.


Aside from going to All-State, which is an “amazing achievement” and an experience Keeley said she will “remember forever,” being in speech and performing is also about the little things in life. Some of Keeley’s favorite aspects are the connections she makes meeting “so many wonderful people,” attending events in different places, watching other people perform and, most of all, simply enjoying the experience.


Speech can push you out of your comfort zone and open doors to new opportunities. It’s also about hard work pushing talent to fulfill the potential a coach saw in a performer and countless hours the performer dedicated to making those performances “spotless.”


Keeley performed at the All-State Festival at the University of Northern Iowa on March 25.

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