For whom the ballot tolls

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When you’re poring over your ballots at the end of a tournament, there’s always one that catches your eye. It’s drenched in ink, bearing line after line of furiously scribbled comments, constructive criticism and compliments. You ask yourself, “Who is this nut?”

Scratching your head in confusion, you think back to the round, when you were telling a tale of passion/intrigue/an alien lizard invasion to your audience. You remember the judge. She sat in a desk in the second row, watching you, but her pen swept madly back and forth across the page. We’re talking complete sentences, with suggestions on how you could get to know your character better and how you can "connect with your audience on a deeper level." She filled the page with her novella, casting you as the protagonist; there was even a diagram of how you could be using the space around you more effectively.

I’m that judge.

It’s ludicrous to admit this, I know. My kind has not been the favorite over the years. It can certainly be annoying when a pen’s movement distracts you from holding eye contact or miming the act of shooting a bow and arrow/writing a letter/murdering an alien lizard.

You probably didn’t read that whole ballot, and there’s a chance you’ll never see me again. But if you’re like I was when I was a competitor, nothing frustrates you more than a blank ballot.

As a freshman slowly testing the waters of speech, I was bewildered each time I received a ballot with the comments “good” and “OK” under vocal articulation and pronunciation. The rest of the page was barren except for my rank. My fellow competitors often suffered similar fates. We wondered why judges even bothered using ballots if they weren’t going to evaluate our performances. Then, after one long weekend of line-reciting, room-finding and judge-thanking, my coach handed me a yellow ballot covered in writing.

I was surprised. The judge had pointed out several of my mistakes, but I could tell that he meant to inspire me, not insult me. I considered his criticism (enunciate more, use your body more, wear your hair up) and made every effort to improve my next performance. It paid off. During my four years of competition, I always felt grateful to that particular judge, though there were many others who later helped me to discover new aspects of acting and interpreting scripts. I still remember the signature at the bottom of that first ballot, and if I ever run into him, I will thank him for the confidence he gave me and the criticism that drove me to succeed.

Next time you’re faced with judges who write, don’t worry. We’re on your side.

That was always so annoying - when judges gave quick answers that didnt help in the least. I do appreciate the judges who give extra thought to help me grow and develop.

T's picture

I'm that judge too! I absolutely love watching kids speak, and I try to give them any help/advice/inspiration I can. I think it would be helpful for competitors to know/remember that if a judge is writing, it's because they're actually paying attention and really thinking about your performance, not just sitting there dozing off or tuning out.

on the other hand, it can be really annoying when the only thing a judge does is write. they cant see your facial expressions or the timing of key points and that always bugged me when i felt the judge was only getting a snippet of my message.

T's picture

I think I write the most for extemp because I competed in that, and in extemp, the performance element isn't as strong. I can easily listen to a competitor and get a good feel for their ability. The facial expressions and gestures dont' change much, so if I watch them for a minute, I'll know what they're capable of. I agree that if it was a Duo or Humor/Drama event, it would be more frustrating for a judge to not be watching, and it's likely (especially if it's a great performance) that I wouldn't be able to tear my eyes away from the performance to write anyway.

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