Showstoppers stick together through the pandemic
By Cassidy Blackwell
The Showstoppers, a speech and drama group at Science Hill High School, adjusted to continue providing students with an outlet during the pandemic and has emerged even stronger this fall, winning four competitions, and performing Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
“They had an incredible resilience to the situation,” said Hunter Graybeal, assistant director of the Showstoppers. “Their drive was really inspiring to us.”
The Showstoppers is an organization that includes an improv team, large-scale productions and, most importantly, Forensic Speech and Drama competitions. These competitions are held monthly and allow students to compete at the local, state and national levels in a range of events like public form debate, prose and poetry interpretation and acting. During 2020, the Forensic competitions pivoted to a virtual format, forcing many drama teams to quit competing, but the Showstoppers refused to give up.
“We could have easily closed down, and some teams did, but (it’s a) testimony to our positive attitude and our kids’ positive attitude,” said Rick Marshall, director of the Showstoppers.
The Showstoppers purchased equipment like black backdrops to be able to record performances and upload them to be judged in Forensic competitions. Teachers at Science Hill offered their classrooms as recording spaces and the students made competing virtually work. Despite the challenges of adapting to an online environment and the disconnection between students, the Showstoppers won seven tournaments – six in a row – and 225 individual awards during 2020. The Showstoppers’ phenomenal work landed them four state championships and carried them to ninth place in the nation.
“We always use this in class – ‘attitude determines altitude,’ absolutely was the key for last year,” said Marshall.
Amongst the uncertainty and difficulty of the pandemic, these students clung to the Showstoppers, proving their determination and love for their craft. Understanding the importance of the arts and extra-curriculars to students, Marshall and Graybeal ensured that the Showstoppers continued to compete in competitions and shifted the improv team and large-scale productions to the virtual sphere.
The first three competitions of the 2021 school year remained virtual but returned to a live format in December. Marshall and Graybeal realized that most of their students, despite a few upperclassmen, had only ever competed virtually. Students were wary of in-person competitions and performances.
“We were actually concerned that we have gotten so good at the virtual game that we’ve lost our touch in a live environment, but I can tell you we have not lost our touch in a live environment,” said Graybeal.
After the first live event the Showstoppers competed in, students found their bearings and were excited to perform live again. The Showstoppers dominated the Forensics, winning all four competitions offered this fall. At the December competition, they beat the second-place team by 103 points, one of the highest scores Marshall and Graybeal had seen.
On the surface, the Showstoppers is a high school speech and drama team, but beneath that, it provides students with valuable skills and connections.
“It gives some of these kids a why,” said Marshall.
Performances and competitions force students to think on their feet, giving them communication and problem-solving skills pertinent to any job field. The Showstoppers also gives students a space to belong and exercise creativity, even in the face of fear.
The Showstoppers are already preparing for their next performance. They will be performing You Can’t Take It With You on March 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.
“We would love to have a huge audience that these kids deserve to have once again,” said Graybeal.