Sunday, March 29, 2009

All-state selection: Icing on her career

HULL—Ask Abby Bierly what her favorite flavor of frosting is.

Chances are, she won't reply with a typical "chocolate" or "vanilla" answer.

Rather, the 18-year-old senior at Boyden-Hull High School in Hull prefers frosting of the speech variety.

And, Bierly recently received the frosting of choice she has been working so hard to achieve on top of her already distinguished cake.

Bierly first earned all-state distinction her freshman year. Although she did not earn the highest speech honor her sophomore year, Bierly was back performing at the all-sate festival her junior year and will cap off her high school speech career with one more all-state performance.

"Me getting to go to all-state for the third year, which happens to be my senior year, is kind of like the icing on the cake for me," Bierly said.

Even though she has been selected three times, Bierly knows receiving the honor of performing at the 2009 Iowa High School Speech Association All-State Individual Events Speech Festival is no easy task.

Bierly chose the piece she would be acting in January, but she had known long before this year that she wanted to do an interpretation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper."

"When I went to all-state my freshman year, I saw someone perform it," she said. "She performed it in a different interpretation than what I do. I mean, I still like it. She was brilliant, but I thought it could be interpreted a whole new way."

The story follows a woman from her point of view, as she descends into madness after being locked in a room covered with yellow wallpaper.

"It's kind of implied that she's already insane, it just manifests itself, and she begins seeing someone in the wallpaper," Bierly said. "By the end of the piece, she ends up becoming the woman she's afraid of in the wallpaper."

Rather than taking the previous interpretation Bierly saw, which focused on the woman being oppressed by her husband, she made her own.

"In mine, she's going insane, and her poor husband had to lock her inside that room," Bierly said.

With the piece originally being 6,000 words, Bierly and her father, the Rev. Steve Bierly, the pastor at American Reformed Church in Hull and speech coach at Boyden-Hull High School, faced a challenging task in cutting the piece down to eight minutes — the maximum time a lotted for acting performances.

They succeeded though, and Bierly began rehearsing her piece in January.

After two to three 30-minute practices at school each week and countless hours of perfecting her piece at home, Bierly first impressed her judge at the district competition on Feb. 28 in Sheldon. After advancing to the state competition on March 14 in Fort Dodge, Bierly impressed a panel of judges so much that they consequently named her to the list of all-state performers.

While Bierly will undoubtedly be nervous before performing her selection at all-state on Monday, she has a special routine in mind to calm her down beforehand.

"I'll go over my piece over and over again and just get into character," she said. "If something is bothering me, I will think how my character would react to that. This year, I stood facing the wall and went over the piece and tried to envision the room where the woman was kept."

Bierly's routine did not come without practice, though.

"It took me a long time to figure out how not to be nervous. My mom is a singer/songwriter and my dad is an actor, so they got my brother and me up on stage, being comfortable with that," she said.  "I think it's just taking a deep breath, getting in the zone of it, blocking everyone else out and just thinking about the piece."

Bierly has plenty more years to perfect her routine.

After graduating from Boyden-Hull this spring, she plans to go to Northwestern College in Orange City, where she will major in theatre and minor in Spanish, before hopefully embarking on an acting career.

This article appeared in the March 28, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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