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Published June 07 2012

Speak softly? Not these kids

MOORHEAD – Nina Grollman could’ve stuck to the script – the tried-and-true comedic monologue that carried her to the national speech tournament for the second straight year.

But the script – well-worn, predictable and unlikely to stand out at the highest level – bored the 17-year-old Moorhead High student out of her mind.

So on the eve of the competition, she’s doing the only sensible thing: polishing up an original, high-octane, one-woman adaptation of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”

No sweat, right?

Grollman, who will be a senior next year, is one of 11 Moorhead speech students competing in the National Forensics League tournament in Indianapolis next week. Coach Rebecca Meyer-Larson says it’s the most students the school has ever had at nationals.

“Teams celebrate if they get one kid at nationals,” Meyer-Larson said.

She said the team, which has more than 80 members and has won 18 consecutive section championships, is something of a hidden gem for the school: As numerous as her students are and as loud as they can be, their work ethic and accomplishments are often quiet.

“I think sometimes when you watch them perform, they make it look easy,” she said. “But in reality, here we are, it’s a beautiful day and we’ve been here all week long.”

Some Moorhead speech alumni have dropped by for critiques and coaching. On Thursday, Hugh Kennedy, a 2004 graduate who is now a Twin Cities-based actor, gave Grollman notes on her monologue.

Kennedy, who regularly performs at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, said he treasured similar help from alumni in his own high school days.

“It was huge for me,” he said. “It struck us like, they had all this experience, this giant wealth of experience.”

Grollman’s piece, ambitious and manic, condenses the 42-minute, three-part musical Web series into a 10-minute performance. Grollman bounces between multiple characters, breaks into song and lays down a beat-box.

At one point, Kennedy helped her break down the funniest way to pantomime galloping on a horse. His take: Good posture was funnier than wild abandon.

“It doesn’t need a lot of butt,” he said.

Grollman has only done the piece once in competition. “It did not go well,” she said, but she feels she can bring it together in the next few days.

She went deep in the national competition last year and feels like she has to live up to expectations this time around.

“I would be lying if I said it’s all about the performance, because I’m just naturally a pretty competitive person,” she said.

For Ryan Olson, an 18-year-old team captain who just graduated, the pressure isn’t quite as high. It’s his first trip to nationals, and he’s happy to get there after four years in speech.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “It’s nothing like, if I don’t make the finals, I’m going to be upset about it.”

Next year, he’s going to the University of Minnesota. He’s not sure what he’ll study. But he feels the skills he developed in speech – networking, teamwork, and of course, public speaking – will only help.

“Nothing has prepared me better for the life ahead than speech,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502