WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) --     Special — WWG junior Zuag Paj (pronounced Zo Pa) Her started her career inspeech as  a freshman. Her was always interested in and participated in theater. She said, “one day I was talking with speech and drama coach Mrs.  ‘E’ (Enstad) and she told me,  ‘I think you would be good at it,’ and that I should give it a try.”

    “I liked being on stage and being in front of an audience, so I decided to try it,” she said. Well it didn’t go quite as well as she expected, and admitted, “my first year was awful! I really don’t know why I stuck with it, it was just sort of weird, I don’t know why,” she said.

    Her’s favorite  category is Serious Interpretation of Drama, which is right up her alley as it involves telling a story and using her acting skills.

    Her talked about how and what she has to do to prepare her speech. You have a script and you have to cut it to fit the strict eight minute time limit. “You have to be very careful timing your speech, if you go over the eight minute limit you will be disqualified,” she said.

    Normally she competes in  about ten practice  meets during the speech season, but due to her heavy class schedule she was only able to attend three meets.

    When she first started she struggled to handle critique criticism. But after her first year she learned to use the criticism to help her improve as she progressed.

    Her sometimes helps judge junior high students and finds it difficult to pick out one person  over another. “Being a judge is the hardest thing — you have to be able to give useful critiques,” said Her.

    Much like other extra curricular  activities, competitors compete at sub-section, and sections prior to making it to state competition. In sub-sections they take the top six in each category depending on the size of the sub-section.

    Her felt confident going into the sub-sections and easily went on to section competition. There she said the competition  is a much higher level, with a lot of good performers. She also finds a lot of difference in how city judges work compared to more rural judges.

    At sub-section and section levels you go through preliminary rounds and then wait to see if you break finals. Going into the finals she thinks about performing so well the judges will notice her facial expressions and timing. In order to advance in the preliminary rounds, competitors must be in the top three.

    Her said, “you have to pick a speech you love.” Once she picks a speech at the beginning  of the season, Her works countless hours perfecting the speech. It involves timing, pauses, articulation, working on the flow of the story, getting good facial expressions and vocals.

    Her video tapes her performances so she can self critique to make it better. She said, “I want to perform at a level that the judges will be totally into my speech performance.”

    In her first two years. she did shorter less complex speeches. She said, it was scary because a lot of times there would be two others doing the same speech in the room.

    Her felt attending Speech Camp at Gustavus Adolphus college in St. Peter was very helpful in perfecting her skills. At the  week long camp, Her says, they really push and challenge you to improve.

    This year Her picked a difficult, not too well known speech to develop.  The subject was taken from a play called Mother of Him, by Evan Placey. The story is  focused on the Mother who has to deal with her son after he rapes two girls. The dark play deals with the mother’s resentment  toward the girls, and her struggle to still love him even though she came  to hate what he had done.  Her tries to put herself into the role she is doing for her presentations.

    She says, it is a difficult play to cut — but she liked it because it was a very hard subject to work with. I really struggled with a lot of the lines, especially the phone calls, it was really hard to get the timing down.

    When she started practicing she did it in front of a mirror at home, to develop how to give the speech. At first you go over and over it until you memorize it. Then you have to work on the pauses, vocals and timing. “You have to be really nit picking about it,” she said.

    In her first year she did not make it to state. Her second year she did make it to state, and although she placed 13th, she really wanted to break finals. So this year her goal was to break finals.

    When Her got to state, Blaine, she felt very confident after placing second in the section. “I knew what to expect from being there before, and what to  expect from the judges,” she said.

    Her says, my first round was my worst round, but her second round was her best round. Her felt she really got into the zone with her character (Brenda) — she credits her drama experience with that, it helps you to be more comfortable and deliver it better.

    After moving to finals she did not feel that her final round was her best, but it was good enough to garner a fourth place medal.

    She says, it seemed incredibly long waiting for the results,  it seemed like five hours but it was less than an hour. When her name was posted on the board she asked a friend if that was actually her name, and he said yes it was. “I was overwhelmed and crying as I found my coaches,” she said.

    Her says, next year I plan on doing a double entry — I need to challenge myself more. She says she might try creative or Extemporaneous reading, doing something out of her comfort zone.

    Zuag Paj is the daughter of John and Panhia Her of Walnut Grove.