When I meet the cast of Northern Light Theatre’s new play, Speech and Debate, they are fresh out of breath. Kayla Gorman gestures to her coffee cup and admits she’s added an extra shot of caffeine to her drink. “Dancing is exhausting,” she explains. Dancing? It turns out that Speech and Debate isn’t just, well, speech and debate.
Stephen Karam’s play follows three high school students who join the speech and debate club in the wake of a local sex scandal. They all know more than they’d like to admit about what’s been going on. Their interactions are fuelled by blackmail, peer pressure and a longing for acceptance in a roller-coaster of funny and serious.
Getting in touch with your high school self can be a challenge; for many of us, that’s a part of life we’d rather forget. Cast member Geoffrey Brown admits to pulling out old journals and reliving adolescent adventures in preparation for his part. As we discuss the play, however, it becomes clear that the issues the characters face are ageless: we all want to feel some kind of connection to the people around us. The cast agrees that acceptance is something we’re all striving for.
The play confronts this desire for community and connection by throwing together a motley crew of loners and outsiders. As each acts out a stereotype — drama queen, gay kid, and keener — their characters reveal that, at the root, we’re all the same. The audience watches them struggle for acceptance of themselves, their peers, and their parents.
The actors agree that this isn’t something we grow out of when we finish high school. “Everybody has moments or years of their life that are filled with complete and utter fear of what other people are going to think of them, and who they’re supposed to be,” says Brown. “It’s okay to accept that you’re different from other people... there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Actor Matthew McKinney reflects on the pressures to fit in and says, “Trying every day to be normal is exhausting. When you get to those moments where you can accept who you are, it’s so gratifying. It’s nice to see in a play because it inspires you to be more true to yourself. Solomon [his character] inspires me to be more true to myself.”
There are nods around the table at this point as we drain the last of our coffee. Gorman notes ironically that her character inspires her to be more comfortable in her own skin. “We’re supposed to be these grown-ups playing high school students, and yet I’m learning more from my high school character than I’ve learned on my own.”
After all that, it sounds like they’ve been working on more than just their dance moves. ~Jen Hoyer
Speech and Debate
Presented by Northern Light Theatre
Directed by Trevor Schmidt
Runs from April 8 to 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
10329 - 83 Ave.
Tickets: $20/adults; $18/students, seniors. Saturday matinees pay what you can.
To purchase, call 780-471-1586 or go online to: www.northernlighttheatre.com
Ages: 13 and over