Classics Declamation Contest: Interviews With Declaimers and Dr. Alonge

by Ibukun Owolabi

News

April 25, 2021

While society becomes more modern every day, BUA has made classical studies a crucial part of the curriculum. All BUA students graduate with a rich knowledge of either Latin or Greek and ancient history. One of BUA’s proudest traditions is the Classics Declamation Contest, an annual contest in which contestants recite and act out a Latin or Greek passage.

The contest invites an international panel of three judges this year: classics professors Laura Gawlinski from Loyola University Chicago, Donald Lavigne from Texas Tech University, and Jack Mitchell from Dalhousie University. One of the greatest prizes BUA has to offer is the glory that comes with being the best declaimer at the school. BUA will also give the winner a book of their choice.

Before contestants declaim their passages, Dr. Alonge, a classics and history instructor and the host of the contest, will give some background information about each passage. The declaimers will recite their passages in chronological order; that is, beginning with the earliest Greek author and ending with the latest Latin author. After all have performed, the judges will pick a Latin and a Greek winner.

The contest will be held in a hybrid format this year: students and teachers are welcome to watch the declamations in person or via Zoom. In previous years, the entire BUA community attended the contest at an All-School Meeting. Dr. Alonge hopes that this year’s small in-person audience in the Black Box theater will have as much energy as an audience during a pre-coronavirus year.

The following are interviews with two declaimers and Dr. Alonge.

Madison Ho ‘24, Latin Declaimer

What passage are you reciting?

I am reciting an impromptu speech by Queen Elizabeth I in response to a disrespectful Polish ambassador.

Why did you choose the passage?

I chose to declaim this speech because I thought it was such an amazing comeback that demonstrated both the Queen’s oratorical skill and her no-nonsense policy towards the out-of-line ambassador.

Are you nervous at all? How have you been preparing for the contest?

Of course I’m nervous because I want to do the passage justice, but I also feel ready through practicing in front of my friends and teachers.

Jasper Millstein ‘24, Greek Declaimer

What passage are you reciting?

I’m doing a monologue from Antigone by Sophocles.

Why did you choose the passage?

I enjoyed reading the book in English during the fall semester, and I felt like this particular piece can be performed well and easily dramatized.

Are you nervous at all?

I don’t think I’m nervous. I’m looking forward to being able to recite it in person and hear everyone else’s passages too.

How have you been preparing for the contest?

I started by doing a full scansion of the passage in order to understand the meter, and since then I have been trying to memorize a few lines per day so that it’ll become fully ingrained in my memory.

Dr. Alonge, Host and Judge

How does it feel to have the contest virtual?

First of all, it won’t be entirely virtual. It will be like a hybrid class, essentially. The participants will perform in the Black Box Theater in front of a small in-person audience, and everyone else will be on Zoom watching via a camera. But some contestants who are remote students will be on Zoom, too. The logistics will be a little complicated, which goes with the territory of a hybrid format, but I wanted the declaimers to have the immediacy of an in-person audience — that’s something that last year’s participants said they really missed by doing their declamations by recording, especially those who had done it before when the whole school was in the GSU auditorium.

How are you helping students, whether it be with their recitals or their nerves?

I, along with Drs. Jewell and Larash, help students select their passages and provide them copies of the text and, if they choose something poetic, we help them learn the meter of their passage. I advise the students on memorization and delivery by sending helpful tips as well as advice about pacing their progress. As we get near the contest, I have every student do a run-through of their declamation for me, so I can give them any last-minute pointers (and so I know they’re ready). 

Nerves? Yeah, I always say I would never have participated in the Declamation Contest when I was in high school because of stage fright, so I can sympathize with their nerves. One of the best ways to deal with nerves is just to be really, really prepared (the same goes for tests, by the way). Another thing I stress is the importance of practicing and rehearsing in front of other people. If you’ve only practiced in your room or in front of the mirror to yourself, doing it for a crowd will have a very different feel, which can make people anxious. I also remind them that everyone in the audience is on their side and pulling for them. It’s a whole crowd of cheerleaders, and the atmosphere is always very supportive. That’s one of the things that makes it such a quintessential BUA moment. 

What will the judging of the contest be based on?

 Judging is based on accuracy, first and foremost: did you say all the words in the right order, and if poetry, in the right meter? But the judges’ decision comes down to delivery. Is there the right tone or feeling? Are important words emphasized to communicate the sense of the passage? Gestures are allowed, to reinforce the words, but no props. Again, there is one Latin winner and one Greek winner selected, but the decision is often really, really hard, because everybody does a great job. 

I will definitely be in the Black Box theater at 3:30 on Monday, April 26. Grab your popcorn and enjoy a wonderful day of Greek and Latin. Valete and χαίρετε!

The Classics Declamation Contest will be held at 3:30 on Monday, April 26. Limited in-person seating is available; if interested, please contact Dr. Alonge. A Zoom link for the contest can be found in an email from Dr. Alonge.

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