On April 22nd, at Bezanson Hall, UMass held the second annual Declamation Day event, entitled From Ovid to Obama. The idea for Declamation Day was originally envisioned by the Dean of CHFA, Joel Martin, with help from Theater Professor Milan Dragicevich, in an effort to rekindle the spoken word, as the Dean described in his introduction. The thought behind this event is that the talents of rhetoric and speech have been forgotten or neglected in modern education. The goal of Declamation Day is to bring these skills back into the spotlight and create more focus on public speaking at UMass. This event was set-up with help from Lynne Latham and Christopher Thornley.
Declamation Day was held in the form of a contest. There were 17 students who chose a non-original piece to recite for the audience. The students chose pieces representative of the Ovid to Obama theme that they found personally moving or that they knew could make an interesting performance. There were four judges: Chancellor Robert Holub, Professor William Hite of the Music Department, Mr. Thomas Bezanson, the son of the man after whom the hall was named, and Dr. Mark Popovsky, a UMass alum. The students were judged based on delivery (articulation, vocal strength, phrasing, word ownership), persuasion (effectiveness in argument, moving the audience, charisma, authority) and overall presentation (choice of material, preparation, audience interaction).
The students delivered impressive performances. The topics ranged from political, to philosophical, to humorous, to completely random; or combinations of all four. I noticed that many of the declaimers spoke with such confidence and ownership that it was as if they had composed the speech. The contestants were enthusiastic, dramatic, and captured the ironies and feelings that the original authors most likely intended. Some spoke thoughtfully, deliberately, and seriously while some spoke theatrically, emotionally, and excitedly. There were many contrasts between the declamations but they were all very pleasing and held the attention of the audience.
While the judges deliberated in another room, everyone was invited to ask questions of the declaimers. The audience learned that most of the declaimers were from the Theater Department, and that the preparation for Declamation Day went on for about 3 weeks, including meetings between all of the declaimers and Professor Dragicevich. Then there was a showing of the winning entry from the Art Departments video contest, documenting activity in the Studio Arts Building. To view this video, click here. The judges then returned and declared a first prize, a second prize, and an honorable mention, explaining that all the performances were so great that they could not limit themselves to two winners. The winners were awarded with new pocket video cameras.