Members of the Kuemper Catholic High School one-act play “Orphan Trains,” which will receive all-state speech honors, are (front, from left) Paige Higby, Matilda Pugh, Grace Meyers, Kira Parkis, Isaac Meyers and Josh Tigges; (back, from left) Bre Augustus, Daniel Miller, Draven Haefs, Andrea Gehling, Mary Lawler, Sami Hays, Anna Langel, Liz Kenkel, Caleb Ludwig and Dominick Ervelli.
Members of the Kuemper Catholic High School one-act play “Orphan Trains,” which will receive all-state speech honors, are (front, from left) Paige Higby, Matilda Pugh, Grace Meyers, Kira Parkis, Isaac Meyers and Josh Tigges; (back, from left) Bre Augustus, Daniel Miller, Draven Haefs, Andrea Gehling, Mary Lawler, Sami Hays, Anna Langel, Liz Kenkel, Caleb Ludwig and Dominick Ervelli.

February 16, 2018

Kuemper Catholic High School performers’ presentation of a powerful glimpse into a poignant chapter in American history has earned them all-state honors from the Iowa High School Speech Association.

The Kuemper ensemble of Bre Augustus, Kira Parkis, Dom Ervelli, Andrea Gehling, Draven Haefs, Paige Higby, Liz Kenkel, Anna Langel, Mary Lawler, Caleb Ludwig, Grace Meyers, Isaac Meyers, Dan Miller, Joshua Tigges and Matilda Pugh will be recognized at the IHSSA Large-Group All-State Festival on Saturday at the Iowa State Center in Ames. They were chosen all-state by receiving a I (excellent) rating plus nomination by the three judges for their performance of the one-act play “Orphan Trains” at the State Large-Group Contest on Saturday, Feb. 3, at Le Mars High School.

The play is based on the Orphan Train Project from 1854 to 1929 when an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children were placed throughout the United States — largely in Midwest rural areas — and Canada. Kuemper’s play focuses on the children and their experiences.

Speech Coach Susan Glass said the students were drawn to the “Orphan Trains” message, selecting the play over other possibilities that were both serious and comedic.

Glass observed, “‘Orphan Trains’ gave the students an opportunity to stretch their acting abilities. Most of the students were able to play several parts or different sides of the same part. They worked very hard on making their characters believable and showing the emotions of the situations the orphans and adoptive parents were in.”

One of the performers, sophomore Joshua Tigges, said, “This is a very powerful piece, but there are certain things that really stand out and make this the type of performance that can make the audience cry. One of the things that really stands out to me is when children from other countries get put on these trains and placed with people they’ve never seen before. It’s a really powerful moment also when siblings get separated and never see each other again.

“The cool thing about this piece is that it shows the different types of families the orphans get placed with. For example an orphan can be adopted into a loving family and live a wonderful life, but then there are also the other orphans like the one that I played that got taken to a farm and were worked like a slave. My character slept in a shed and all he did was work in the fields with the bare minimum essentials to stay alive. The part that really brings this piece together is the song at the end that we sing. It starts out with one person, then everyone slowly joins in and you can feel the emotion of these orphans and what they had to go through.”

Rehearsing the play several times a week beginning in January, Tigges said, “We could see this slowly coming together, then when we got to districts (District Contest in January in Storm Lake) and everything just exploded and it seemed like everything was clicking just right. People were really connecting with their characters and a ton of emotion was happening.”

Tigges said Glass worked with small groups and sections of the production, helping make specific moments more touching to the audience. The extra work helped students connect with their characters, “really living the life of the orphan or farmer,” he added.

“A week before State when we all got together and rehearsed again, it seemed like everyone stepped up about 10 steps,”

A number of the Kuemper students have received large-group all-state speech honors previously. Draven Haefs, Caleb Ludwig, Sami Hayes, Daniel Miller, Grace Meyers, Mary Lawler and Liz Kenkel performed in the one-act ”Shoes Along the Highway” last year that made it to all-state.