An Excerpt from Prep Room
(montage of different speakers wearing a motley assortment of suits. Some boys have made the subtle mistake of a blue blazer with black pants; some girls are wearing their mother’s heels that are a few sizes too big; one unfortunate boy wore a tie over a t-shirt; one girl is in her full school uniform. These clips are spliced with judge’s hands writing numbers on sets of paper.)
Jason: Before I start today’s speech, I just want everyone to know I am very smart. I feel like mistakes are less noticeable if you know I’m smart. Like, I take like ten A.P.s… I mean, I know I only have six courses, but ten of them are A.P.s. Plus, I have B.S. courses like A.P. Art History. So, just so you know, I’m smart.
Mark: But when we look to today’s question, “is the middle class shrinking?”, we can see that no, the middle class is not shrinking because obesity is still an epidemic today.
Aaron: And the AIDs epidemic could be stopped by implementing these three simple steps. First – condoms must be spread around the entire continent of Africa. I sort of thought I’d get a lot more girls this year – all boys school, didn’t see that coming – so I have a huge supply that I am willing to donate to the cause.
Hilary: (stammering – this is her first time in finals) And one of the main problems of poverty is, obviously, the lack of ability to buy things… and buying things could be important because like, toothpaste. If you buy toothpaste, you never need to go to the dentist… Like, ever. I’ve never been and my teeth are like axes. You can hit them if you want? (grins and bears teeth) Give ‘em a whack. This is what employment does for the backbone of our economy.
Mark: And those priests that are molesting little boys? Yeah, the major issue is that choirs should be open for girls because it’s just- (buries head in hands) Oh my God, it’s so gay.
India: And South Korea told North Korea to stop hitting it with missiles – Oh, wait, that’s what she said (winks at judge).
Ptolemy: And if we just took the drones that we had going over Pakistan right now and put them between us and Mexico, then we could definitely keep out all the drug violence, but we would still be able to have access to the drugs. The important thing is that the drugs can still get through the drones, but the people get left behind.
Hilary: (in a horribly deep voice; trying to impersonate a boy) It is with this in mind that we look today at the issue of deficit spending.
Jason: (sobbing) And can’t North Korea just leave South Korea alone? Why is it always so goddamn violent? They’re not even together as Korea anymore! Can’t North Korea just step back and let South Korea get on with its life?
Elizabeth: And I found the answer in the August 3rd edition of the Economist, so instead of a regular speech, I’ll just read from the article.
Christopher: President Obama has responded to these accusations with the- I’m sorry, did you forget to give me a time signal? I’ve been staring at that clock behind your head, and I’m sure it’s been four minutes. Just you’re a really terrible judge, and I need better than this to flourish as an extemper, so you need to put some more work into your judging.
Peter: And speaker of the house, John Boner, said that-
(the clips stop overlapping, and a clip of Jason walking out of the classroom shows. He puts his face right in the camera, breaking the third wall)
Jason: That was the worst speech I’ve ever given.
Theme Song: It’s the End of the World as We Know It by R.E.M.)
(SCENE ONE: India’s dining room. Hard wood floors; a glass trophy cabinet with dishes that are for display and not eating; a stiff and obviously posed family photo and school photos of India and her two younger brothers, Zach and Sam, are on the walls. India’s mother, Teresa, and father, Hakim, sit across from her on the table. They look like they are delivering bad news.)
Hakim: India, recently your mother and I have found something very troubling in your bedroom.
(Teresa sets an open Fire and Ice Magnum Condom still in its wrapper on the table and slides it across to India.)
India: Oh my God…
Teresa: Sweetie, I’ve located some rehabilitation centers for nymphomaniacs. I want you to know that there are ways to overcome this-
India: Mom, it’s a sealed condom. It’s not even used. You think I’m addicted to sex?
Teresa: Well, it’s just… it’s not classy for the woman to carry her own-
India: False! False, false, false! You want me to be pregnant! You cannot rely on men to use protection!
Teresa: India, you’re a very pretty girl…
Hakim: Stop sugar-coating it. You’re very pretty, and we fully believe you have the potential to marry rich.
India: Oh my God…
Hakim: But we also believe you’re stupid enough to marry for love. You can be academically stupid or you can have stupid relationships, but not both. I need to know you’ll be taken care of if I die.
India: That’s why I go to school…
Hakim: Is that why you get Cs? Is that why I get calls that your English essay smelled like vodka?
India: It was about Hemingway. I was getting in character.
Hakim: Take some responsibility for your actions! If school isn’t where you’ll excel, find something else!
India: Cool. So can I have that condom for later?
Hakim: Your mother and I have signed you up for your school’s speech and debate team. I suggest you start practicing if you want to be a national champion.
India: Because that’s possible?
Teresa: I think your capable of so much, darling.
(They sit in silence for a moment, then India snatches the condom and stalks off. END OF SCENE ONE.)
(SCENE TWO: The kitchen of MARK. It has wood floors and a half-drawn curtain through which you can see the streets of the upper west side. MARK is at a plastic kitchen table, sitting backwards on the chair so he faces the doorway to his living room. MARK’S MOM, JESS, comes wheeling in a large, heavy-duty black bucket on a stand.)
JESS: Surprise! I didn’t want you to be unprepared for your first day at United Souls!
MARK: What… is it?
JESS: It’s your bucket! Open it up; I’ve put your very first article in it for you.
(MARK gets up and walks towards the Bucket. He pushes the latch to the side and flips open the lid of the Bucket. He pulls out a folder with one sheet of paper in it.)
MARK: (reading) What President Obama has to do in order to be a two-term president?
JESS: That’s an important one. (smiling) Your brother always said that election season was his favorite extemp year because all the questions were about it. But I’m sure they’ll explain that to you at preseason.
MARK: Can we stop calling it preseason? You make me feel like I’m playing basketball or football or something…
JESS: Sweetie, you can do sports at United Souls… (smiling teasingly) you can’t win at sports, but they’re still an option. And I’ve always said, chess is just soccer slowed down…
MARK: I thought it was like war. Why couldn’t I be in the marines, mom? Why am I going to the nerdiest school on the east coast?
JESS: That’s because you’re my little business tycoon. Give me a hug before you go. (they hug) This will help you make friends. You made all of your best friends from middle school at sports camp… It’s just the same thing.
MARK: Except this time instead of watching the Superbowl together, we can watch the State of the Union.
JESS: And take a shot every time a republican frowns at something Obama proposes. Now get going!
(MARK grabs the Bucket and wheels it to the door.)
(SCENE THREE: The sidewalk outside United Souls. MARK runs the bucket through a puddle that has gathered by the curb and gets splashed. He frowns and tugs the bucket onto the sidewalk. It hits a bump and tumbles off of the wheels. HILARY jogs over to help. He is wearing a blazer and corduroy pants with closed-toed shoes – not an appropriate summer outfit. She is wearing her school uniform: a light blue kilt and white polo with red loafers.)
HILARY: I’ve seen that happen like four times today. Are you guys running a really giant drug operation or are there heads in those?
MARK: … What?
HILARY: Oh, sorry. I just don’t normally see teenagers in suits pulling giant buckets during the summer. Or anytime, actually, but I thought summer was when all the drug dealers moved to the country clubs.
MARK: The country club is the other gang’s turf, so, you know…
HILARY: Oh, yeah, yeah. That wouldn’t work out then.
(MARK stuff his hands in his pockets, and HILARY uncomfortably rubs the side of her head.)
MARK: It’s for extemp, by the way.
MARK: Extemp. It’s like public speaking, and you get a question on politics or something, and then you like write a speech and-
HILARY: Oh, no. I know what extemp is. My sister like won the Harvard tournament two years ago. I just said “what” because if you want to give speeches you have to stop slurring your words when you speak… Slow down a little, you know? (she smiles at him jokingly) That’s a joke, by the way. I’m actually hilarious.
MARK: (laughs awkwardly) Yeah, okay. I’m sure my coach will correct that. We have like a week of preseason before school starts to make sure that we all know how to talk or something. I heard one time a mute kid snuck in, and our administrator didn’t know. So, I guess it’s going to be good for weeding out the kids who, you know, physically can’t speak…
(HILARY nods mockingly and grins at MARK.)
HILARY: Well, I think you can speak, so no worries?
MARK: It’s a voicebox.
HILARY: Oh. Don’t tell anyone? Or do, and you’ll do well because they’ll feel bad for you?
MARK: I mean, that’s the plan.
HILARY: Yup, yup… I’d buy a wheelchair, too, if I were you.
MARK: Is my neck brace not good enough?
HILARY: (bursts out laughing) Sorry, sorry… headgear? Because of the whole upper-schooler with braces situation?
(HILARY points at her teeth to show her lack of braces. MARK does have braces on his upper teeth.)
MARK: Oh, okay, okay. So you’re rude. I thought nerds were nice.
HILARY: No, we think we’re better than everyone. Wait until you start extemp. Those kids are the shit.
MARK: You have experience with extempers?
HILARY: I mean, my sister’s life was like extemp and parties… what an oxymoron. (she shakes her head and pauses) Obviously I’m going to be on the public speaking team.
MARK: (laughs) Then I’ll see you at the first tournament?
HILARY: Of course! I’ll be the one fitting in.
MARK: That’s great, then. I’ll see you there. (smiles)
HILARY: Yeah, if I need help fitting in, just tell me. I can see that this may not be your area of expertise.
MARK: You haven’t even heard me give a speech yet?
HILARY: You’re already skipping practice, though.
MARK: Oh, shit. You’re right. (he starts backing up, still facing HILARY.) I’ll look for you, though!
(MARK turns around and jogs down the street, pulling the bucket behind him. HILARY waves slightly while his back is turned and stands still for a second until he disappears into a door.)
(SCENE 3.1: The auditorium of United Souls. There is a blackboard that has written on it “Liberal judges – Hilary Clinton; Obama = hope; conservative jokes – Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck”. LOGAN has a yardstick pointer and has just finished giving a lecture on this. PTOLEMY, AARON, ROBERT, CHRISTOPHER, ROBERTO, PETER, and OTHER UNITED SOULS BOYS are seated around the auditorium.)
LOGAN: And now I want you all to forget that you ever thought you knew how to talk. Every year we get an influx of freshmen who break finals one time and start thinking they’re God’s gift to debate.
MILLER: (raises a hand tentatively) Mr. Franklin wants me to remind us that even though Jesus was not in the New York Catholic Forensics League, he is still God’s gift to extemp…
LOGAN: Good point. When all of you little shitheads think you’re the best debater, it is blasphemy. Don’t do it. Freshmen that don’t realize how terrible they are-
(The door opens and MARK sneaks in and slinks into the first open seat right next to the door, leaving his bucket in the doorway. JASON saunters in and walks up the aisle to take a seat in the front row.)
LOGAN: – grow into juniors that don’t realize how terrible they are. Where were you, Jace??
JASON: I was watching your “Bring Back Keith Olbermann” rally on youtube. I gave it five stars.
LOGAN: Countdown to Keith’s Return is not any of your business. You were supposed to be here two hours ago to prep with us.
JASON: I thought prep was only half an hour? (smiles)
LOGAN : Just have a seat. You’re speaking on appropriate behavior with judges since we all know how well you get along with them.
(The sophomores and juniors in the audience laugh and start whispering conspiratorially.)
JASON: That’s why it’s so great that your mom judges every tournament, Logue.
LOGAN: You fu-
BENJAMIN: (coughs) Motherfucker.
(The laughter in the audience grows slightly louder. JASON goes red, and MITCHELL slips down in a seat politely. He puts his head down.)
LOGAN: You. Freshman. Why were you late?
MARK: (stammers) The bucket got stuck and everything fell over.
LOGAN: Did we say that you needed a bucket for today?
MARK: I mean, you didn’t really say that we needed to be on time, either. I thought they were implied.
(JASON smiles. LOGAN rolls his eyes.)
LOGAN: You’ve missed us handing out junior/senior mentors. You can have Jason – his group always goes far. It must be his excellent leadership technique.
(JASON laughs sharply. PTOLEMY looks visibly upset, and ROBERT turns around to stare at MARK. He mouths ‘Team’ and points at himself. MARK nods.)
LOGAN: Okay. Now that everyone is actually here; let’s move onto Obama. I know many of you here don’t actually like him, except for the few of you who didn’t prepare and don’t know anything about him except that you can Obama-nize a photo of yourself on facebook.
ROBERT: (whispers) It’s my profile. (fist pumps)
LOGAN: But he is very popular with the parents around here. Can anyone think of a way to balance…
(As LOGAN continues his lecture, the scene fades out with everyone going back to writing notes on the topics.)
(SCENE FOUR: The Academy of The Savior’s forensics breakfast/orientation. SOPHIA sits at a table in a small cafe next to school, flipping through The Economist. INDIA walks up to her. Everyone is dressed in uniform.)
INDIA: So, extemp, huh? How ‘bout them speeches?
SOPHIA: (without looking up) Have you read this?
INDIA: The Economist? I mean, once, I guess.
SOPHIA: (hands her the magazine) You’ve got a tournament this Saturday. Read this. Read the one before it. Read online articles. Read other sources.
INDIA: (flips through the magazine) You gonna eat breakfast?
SOPHIA: Sometimes I’m so busy reading, I forget to eat.
INDIA: Cool. Sometimes I eat while reading.
(INDIA makes no move to sit at SOPHIA’S table. HILARY runs into the cafe.)
HILARY: Sorry, I’m late! Did I miss anything?
INDIA: Yeah, read this. (hands HILARY the magazine)
HILARY: I already have…
INDIA: Oh, God.
SOPHIA: Hi, Hilary.
HILARY: Hi, Sophia! How was your summer? Did you do anything smart?- Wait, sorry, not that you’re not always smart, I mean, you can do smart things without trying. Not that you don’t try, you work so hard- I love you. You’re my idol.
SOPHIA: Hi, Hilary.
(SOPHIA looks back in her bag for another article, and HILARY mouths “I love her” to INDIA. INDIA rolls her eyes.)
SOPHIA: So I was just telling- sorry, what’s your name?
SOPHIA: Make sure you read about that. I was just telling India that the first tournament is next weekend, and I’m putting you in it. You won’t do well, but you’ll compete and do better at the next one.
(HILARY nods in wordless terror. SOPHIA looks down at her magazine, and ELIZABETH wanders over from the group of other forensics girls to the extemp table. She is holding a muffin in each hand.)
ELIZABETH: … So were we not getting food first?
(INDIA grabs a muffin.)
SOPHIA: I’ve explained enough. You three can go. Hilary, tell her about the tournament.
HILARY: Okay, so this Saturday-
SOPHIA: Tell her elsewhere. I’ll send out an email with the correct information so you guys won’t be going in blindly. Walk away now so I can read?
HILARY: Of course, Sophi-
(INDIA grabs her arm with a free hand and pulls her away from SOPHIA’S breakfast table.)
INDIA: Personally, I don’t believe in tough love.
HILARY: So you think there was love there? She’s amazing…
INDIA: If I had balls, I’d be afraid she’d rip them off of me.
HILARY: Can’t you just say she’s a ball-breaker? Like, come on.
INDIA: And you kept sucking up to her, too.
HILARY: It wasn’t sucking up! It was love in its purest form – idol worship.
INDIA: Whatever now you’re her little vice president. You’re Joe Biden, except he’s a fuck-up.
HILARY: Everyone in politics can be considered a fuck-up, because politics is just fucked up. No one would make it better.
INDIA: So insightful.
ELIZABETH: (interrupting) Are we going to get muffins evewyday? I weally like them.
HILARY: Right, Elizabeth!
ELIZABETH: I don’t weally know what’s going on here. I just want my parents to be proud of me, and they want me to do extemp.
INDIA: Same boat!
HILARY: Oh, cool…
INDIA: Yeah, you’re nerdy, Hilary. Deal with it.
HILARY: It’s a sport for nerds.
INDIA: It’s not a sport at all. Rather, it is a public speaking event. Do not call it a sport.
HILARY: Don’t hate. (INDIA glares at her, and she mumbles:) appreciate…
INDIA: I can’t take this. (nods curtly) I’ll see you gentlemen on Saturday.
HILARY: Will you practice beforehand?
INDIA: (mocking) Yeah! I’ll speak. Because it’s public speaking. I’ll also be in public! It’s a double whammy!
(INDIA jogs up the steps into The Academy of the Savior, leaving HILARY and ELIZABETH standing outside.)
HILARY: I hate her.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, she’s obnoxious.
HILARY: Will you practice?
ELIZABETH: Probs not, but let’s not make a big deal about it. I don’t wo’k for most things.
HILARY: Oh, okay… I wouldn’t ask you to go against your nature or anything.
ELIZABETH: (laughs) It’s gonna be fun for you, though, if you’re the only one that works. It’s cool being the best at things.
HILARY: (smiles) Yeah, I guess. It’d be more fun if we were a team.
ELIZABETH: We are a team! I’ll be your slacker sidekick!
HILARY: (laughs) Wait, what’s your name, again? You’re new to Academy of the Savior?
ELIZABETH: Yeah, I’m Ewizabeth. Or Wizard. You’re Hilawy?
HILARY: Yeah. Cool to meet you! (smiles) I gotta go to class, and you do, too, but we’ll talk later.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, great.
(ELIZABETH jogs up the steps into the building.)
HILARY: Who joins a public speaking team with a damn lisp? (mocking) Oh, my name’s Ewizabeth. I have a lithp, let me talk to you about Thouth Korea and have you take it seriously- theriouthly, I mean. She doesn’t even mess up the s… It’s like she’s rubbing it in by not being mainstream.
(HILARY wanders up the steps into the building, happy despite her disappointment in her teammates.)
Age 15, Grade 10,
Convent of the Sacred Heart