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Your Next Favorite Extra-Curricular: Large Group Speech.

What is Large Group and why YOU should get involved.
Ben Hirdler
A photo taken after Large Group All-State, 2022.

When you think of theater, you might think of your stereotypical musicals or even dramatic plays, but have you heard of Large Group? Large Group Theater is a culmination of 11 categories that can apply to any of your interests. For example, if you enjoy singing, you would be great in Musical Theater. Or maybe you enjoy making movies or directing a TV News broadcast? Iowa High School Speech Association Large Group has something for everyone.

IHSSA is a collection of schools across four districts, competing to show off their theatrical talents in front of judges. There are three separate contests.

Districts, State, and All-State. Districts are where you perform in front of one judge and are scored based on a “judge ballot” which varies depending on the category in which you are competing. Any individual that scores a ‘I’ goes on to State, in which you are rated on the same criteria, but instead of one judge, you perform for three. After state, you wait for nominations, which are released on a Monday afternoon. These nominations will tell you if you are performing (or non-performing) at the All-State Speech Festival. At the final festival, you are not rated, but you are competing for “best in category” also known as “critics choice.” Since this is the final of the competitions, you can not move on further, but instead win a banner that you get to host at your school until the next festival.

Let’s talk categories. The 11 categories include One Act Play, Readers Theater, Choral Reading, Ensemble Acting, Group Mime, Solo Mime, TV News Broadcasting, Radio News Broadcasting, Group Improvisation, Musical Theater and Short Film.

Large Group Categories
One Act Play

A group can perform either one act from a longer play, or can perform an entire show consisting of only one act, hence the name, One Act Play. This category allows for costuming, sound effects, set, and even lights. All lines need to be memorized.

Readers Theater

A group performs directly from a script, reading lines aloud. This category allows you not to have to memorize, but still have a lot of fun acting. In Readers Theater, you are allowed boxes or chairs, but no costuming or set pieces.

Choral Reading

Choral Reading, also knows as voice choir is a category in which you read from a script in unison or not, adding in movements and voice changes for effect. You are allowed to use props, costumes, and set. Lines do not need to be memorized.

Ensemble Acting

Ensemble acting is any type of acting scene requiring more than one person. You are not allowed any costumes or props, and all lines need to be memorized.

Group Mime

Group mime is where a group acts out a scene in silence, with background music (no lyrics). And no, traditional mime makeup is not allowed.

Solo Mime

Despite being a 'solo' event in a large group setting, solo mime is the same as group mime, just only allowing one person. In solo mime, an individual acts out a scene in complete silence with background music (no lyrics), although music is not required.

Television News Broadcasting

TV News is a pre-recorded video "broadcast" prepared by a group and displayed for judging. This broadcast wil include news, weather, and commercials. This is a non-memorized event.

Radio News Broadcasting

Radio News Broadcasting is an audio recording pre-recorded and played for judging. This recording will include a section on news, weather, and commercials. This event is not memorized.

Group Improvisation

Group Improvisation is a group of 2-6 people who chose from a list of three topics, and are given 2 minutes to create scene lasting 5 minutes or less. This event is improv, meaning that is it not scripted or rehearsed, it is off the top of your head.

Musical Theater

Musical theater is a group of 2-8 students performing a series of selections from a musical. The maximum time limit is 10 minutes. This event is memorized.

Short Film

Short Film is a pre-recorded film under 5 minutes in which students will create a short story of any genre. They will record and edit themselves, then present it for judging. This event can involve as many as 15 students.

Last year, West High had 3 performances move on to All-State, the biggest and final competition of the season. “The Cheese and The Worms,” a Readers Theater written by their coach, Benjamin Hirdler, “The Diamond Heist,” A solo mime piece performed by former student, Holden Kalter, and an Ensemble Acting piece titled “The Affect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds.” Even though the Ensemble didn’t perform, it was still an honor to be nominated as a non-performing production.

The All-State Performing Readers Theater group, Large Group 2023. (Trisha Crawford)

Andrew Cusmano, Junior, the lead actor in “The Cheese and The Worms” played Menocchio, a 32-year-old man in 1532 Italy. Cusmano states, “It was about a man named Menocchio (who was actually a real guy!) and how he believed that the world was made of cheese and that worms burrowed in it.” Cusmano says that he always looked forward to rehearsals since the cast was “such a good group of people to be around,” and that “we were always productive with learning all that we needed to know.” The Readers Theatre’s cast, consisting of 10 students, worked twice a week on their script, which included a day of learning the background of the story.

When reminiscing about being nominated for All-State, Cusmano says he felt “excitement beyond words.” He talks about how amazing of an opportunity it is to be nominated and perform at the festival. Everything from the bus ride, all the way to watching other people perform, he describes as “an incredibly phenomenal experience.” Performing can be a little nerve-wracking but “most of the anxiety is replaced by pure joy to be able to do what I enjoy doing with fellow actors who love it as much as I do.” Cusmano describes his final performance as bittersweet, but he states that he loves Large Group and that he is “deeply grateful for the time I spent working on it.”

Maddy Granahan, a Junior at West High performed in “The Affect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds.” Granahan played Ruth and had a little sister named Tillie. Together they faced the emotional and physical abuse of their mother, Beatrice.  When reflecting upon rehearsals leading up to their first competition, districts, Granahan says that rehearsals were pretty laid-back. She states “From the beginning, I feel like we all had a strong sense of our characters and knew how we needed to perform in order to do them justice.” Granahan shares that she never thought she would be nominated for an All-State spot. “It’s always something that’s in the back of your mind when you’re performing and when you finish, but I never thought I’d actually be able to make it. I never could’ve done it on my own though. Our whole group each had so many factors and brought so much to the table to make us All-State worthy. Even being nominated is such an indescribable feeling and honor.”

Holden Kalter and Abby Avis at the Large Group All-State festival. (Lydia Newsome)

Abby Avis, one of the Large Group coaches, helped West High Graduate, Holden Kalter, on his All-State-worthy Solo Mime performance. Avis and Kalter would meet once or twice a week to rehearse his production. Avis states, “Our rehearsals ranged from half an hour to an hour and a half long depending on where we were in the process and how close we were to the contest!” Solo Mime is less demanding than other categories since there is only one student to work with, but it is still an amazing category to be involved in.

When reminiscing over All-State, Avis says, “Genuinely, having a student perform at the All-State festival was so surreal to me! When I was in school I had received non-performing nominations but never any actual performing ones. It was kind of reassuring to see that although I am no longer able to compete myself and create art that can then be seen by people from all over the state, I am still capable and able to do so by helping my students achieve that dream.”

IHSSA Large Group is such an amazing experience for all types of people, including you! From Musical Theater all the way to Group Improv, there is something for every person to enjoy.

On November 8 there will be an informational meeting about the upcoming Large Group season in the West High Little Theater, at 3:30 p.m. We would love to see you there! For more information about IHSSA Large Group, visit the IHSSA website or email Kaylynn Crawford. ([email protected])

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About the Contributor
Kaylynn Crawford
Kaylynn Crawford, Opinion and Arts & Entertainment Editor
(she/her) Kaylynn Crawford is a junior at West High and this is her first year on Wahawk Insider. Outside of Wahawk Insider, you can always find Kaylynn on the West High stages performing Theater Arts and Music. When Kaylynn isn’t on the stage, reading, or writing, she loves to be around her friends playing games and relaxing.
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  • B

    Beth McCrindleNov 5, 2023 at 8:21 pm

    Well written article! Large Group has always (!!) represented West proudly! I hope many will decide to give it a try!

  • N

    Nura NazryOct 23, 2023 at 2:42 pm

    this is probably your best article yet!