COLORADO SPRINGS. As Ben Bodnar and Daniel Zill entered their second season on the forensics team at St. Mary’s High School in the fall of 2018, both knew they wanted to try a new event, duo interpretation. Together they looked at pieces and chose Wayne and Shuster’s “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga,” a parody of ancient Rome and Julius Caesar with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in, for its general story and fun lines. As they began those early practices of the piece in the fall, they had no idea that it would take them to the finals in the CHSAA State Speech and Debate Tournament in February, where they eventually placed fourth.
Bodnar, a junior, and Zill, a sophomore, didn’t go into the forensics season with one goal in mind for their duo interpretation piece, instead opting to set incremental goals before each tournament. Zill said he felt that looking at each tournament and individually setting goals for each was a more realistic approach for them this season.
“We were never disappointed about not reaching a goal, because the goals we were setting were attainable for us. We were setting them in the environment where they would be accomplished and they felt feasible to us,” Bodnar said.
However, as the season went on, and the duo gained momentum and placed higher, they started thinking more about placing and where each success would lead them. Bodnar said that while they hadn’t gone into the state tournament thinking they would make it into the top six, they had set a goal to make it into the second day of competition. Once they accomplished that, thoughts of making the finals started to surface. At state, they were competing against and bested teams from Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Cherry Creek High School in Denver, and Lewis Palmer High School in Monument.
“Just making it to the second day of competition felt good because we knew we were now some of the best competitors in this event in the state,” Zill said. “We stopped looking at those high-level teams as gods and saw ourselves getting to that higher level. It was nice.”
Speech and debate tournaments were in full swing while Bodnar and Zill were also rehearsing as leads in St. Mary’s spring musical, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” sharing the roles of the Beast and Gaston. While those commitments on top of St. Mary’s rigorous academic curriculum can be a lot to balance, Zill said that it’s manageable thanks to the tight-knit community that they have at school.
“I think what helps the most is that the theater community and the forensics community at our school are very intertwined and both of those communities are so good,” Zill said. “It’s good to have these communities not only as people who can help you with the speeches or lines, but also as people you can deflate to and who serve as your stress relievers.”
With 250 students making up the St. Mary’s student body, the abundance of opportunities that St. Mary’s offers its students might not be initially apparent to those outside of the community. However, Bodnar and Zill said the community’s size works to the students’ advantage since many extracurriculars are offered and students have the opportunity to try a variety of activities to find what best suits them. Plus, those activities help balance out the college-preparatory academics of St. Mary’s.
“We are at a place where we need to start thinking about our futures and what we want to pursue and having a variety of activities to try certainly helps us find our interests and talents,” Bodnar said.
Bodnar’s participation in St. Mary’s fall 2017 play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” has helped him discern his love of theater. Although he said he has participated in productions throughout his school career, it wasn’t until that show that he discovered his passion for being on stage. Now he sees himself pursuing a career as a professional actor.
“That ended up becoming one of the best experiences of my life,” Bodnar said. “‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was so fun and since then I’ve been enthralled with the stage.”
Zill experienced a similar awakening of the love of theater this spring with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Although he feels a career in a science field is likely in his future, he hopes to keep some connection with the theater.
“Being a lead and transforming into that character and then seeing all of your hard work pay off made me realize that drama was good for me and I think I’m good for it,” he said.
Looking ahead, next year will likely see Bodnar and Zill participating in similar activities, having found that participating in forensics and drama simultaneously complement each other. This year’s speech and debate success already have the duo thinking about next year’s season and how they will approach it. They intend to do another duo interpretation for forensics next year, while pursuing individual events as well.
“It’s hard to say whether forensics has helped with drama or drama has helped with forensics, but there is definitely a correlation there,” Bodnar said. “The acting and speaking skills work very well in accordance with each other. Next year I know we would like to qualify for the National Speech and Debate Tournament, continuing St. Mary’s long history of having qualifiers for the event.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)