Students Katie Lai and Trevor March walk on stage at the Main Stage Theater, to perform a duo interpretation program about a wife with epilepsy and the struggles that she and her husband must face while they deal with the seizures.
Using elements of body language, blocking and characterization, the duo tells the story in just under 10 minutes. Lai, as the wife, loses control as her body convulses in the air while March as the tormented husband watches helplessly and waits for the doctors to find answers to the epileptic episodes.
After a dramatic silence, the audience applauds and cheers while the lights fade and Lai and March walk off stage.
This is just one of the many performances by the Las Positas College forensics team, the Talk Hawks, during “Speech Gems,” which took place on May 8.
The speech night was one of the last performances for the Talk Hawks, concluding their successful 2014-15 season. Collectively, the team competed in 11 tournaments, including national and international tournaments held in Cleveland and Barcelona, Spain. They took home 126 awards, including two local first place sweepstakes, the silver sweepstakes for nationals and third place for their international competition.
Lai and March are two of the 14 team members and have won 37 of those 126 awards, with Lai taking home 26 of them. This includes her Gold Award in informative speaking for nationals, ranking her best in the nation on a community college level.
“We’re the first or second best individual event program in Northern California. And we’ve held that ranking for the past five years or so,” said Tim Heisler, co-director for the Talk Hawks, who will also be taking over as director next school year.
But what the team takes away the most, are the experiences and lifelong skills that they receive while a part of the forensics program.
“It’s an incredible learning laboratory because the students learn so much in such a short amount of time. It changes lives. It truly does. And its skills that you learn that you get to take with you the rest of your life,” said Janet Brehe Johnson, current director for the forensics team.
Often, when people think of the term “forensics” crime dramas like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” come to mind. The association often creates a misunderstanding to those newly introduced to the Talk Hawks team.
“We call ourselves the forensics team. But that word there confuses people a lot. So it’s the intercollegiate speech and debate team. And it consists of both the individual event performances that go head-to-head with other individuals and their speeches. And there’s an element of debate also within the competition,” Heisler said.
The term “forensics” actually dates back to the days of Aristotle and translates to “seek the truth,” according to Brehe Johnson. It was later adopted by the medical world because crime scene investigators would seek the truth for murder investigations.
While the Talk Hawks are a competitive academic team, it all starts with signing up for Speech 48, which is offered as a one to four unit class.
March found out about the forensics team through a referral from one of his improv troupe coordinators, Salim Razawi, who was also a former Talk Hawk.
“He told me about it and was like ‘Hey, you should do this if you’re going to Las Positas,’ and I replied ‘Okay,’” March said.
Although Trevor has only been at Las Positas for one academic year, on top of being a part of the Talk Hawks, he has starred in a leading role for the Shakespeare play “Comedy of Errors”, as well as continued performing with his improv troupe, while still maintaining his part-time job.
He and many of the other team members from the Talk Hawks will also be starring in the upcoming performing arts department summer musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Afterward, March will be transferring to Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA) for two years to further improve his acting skills.
“I like both aspects of acting (film and theater). So I’d like to pursue acting in general,” March said.
Lai came upon the class by chance when she was searching for classes to continue what she learned from taking speech and debate in high school.
“I literally opened the catalog to the speech page, and I was like which of these speech classes can I sign up for? So I went online and Speech 48 was the only one that had seats. Because Speech 1 and Speech 46 are always super filled,” Lai said.
After signing up for the class, Lai received an e-mail from Dobson during the summer asking her if she knew that she had signed up for a competitive speech team.
“And I e-mailed back, ‘No, but I’ll try it,’” she said.
Since then Lai has had many achievements with the Talk Hawks, including her previously mentioned awards. She has also served as the student coordinator for the February’s Talk Hawk Invitational and has received the “Excellence in Achievement in Speech” scholarship, along with her teammates March, Jacob Montez and Jessica Samorano.
Even with a moderate form of tourette’s syndrome, which can show symptoms when she is excited or anxious. Lai does not let her disability wear her down and even credits being on the forensics team for boosting her confidence level.
“She’s a fantastic speaker. She organizes. She’s on top of everything. She’s going to do well in life because the girl just makes sure that things happen. And yet she’s really humble and sweet. She’s just a really good person and a really strong student,” Brehe Johnson said.
Lai will be transferring to George Mason University in the fall, where she will pursue a Communications and Psychology major as well as join the school’s forensics team.
With Lai and March, along with other Talk Hawks members such as Samorano, Rajiv Vijayakumar and Nichole McGinnis leaving this year, spots on the team will be vacant. New members are encouraged to join.
“It’s an activity that literally has something for everyone,” said Heisler. He and Brehe Johnson both agree that the forensics team will help students with many skills including public speaking, people skills as well as boosting their confidence level.
“Join. If you are the type of person who would even try to be on the team it will be a worthwhile experience,” Lai said.
“The people who come out of it at the end are the cream of the crop so to say. Even if you don’t think you can be that way, go for it anyway because it’s a learning experience and above all it is helping you grow as a person.”