WILKES-BARRE — Come for the history, stay for the humor and help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — all courtesy of the Meyer’s High School Debate Team.
The team will present a Nov. 19 program commemorating the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The group has researched everything from period music to parodies, so odds are you’ll learn something new.
And lest you’re concerned that spoofs cheapen such a solemn speech, consider the context.
“The parodies are not making fun of President Lincoln or the battle,” explained attorney Kim Borland, who spearheads the debate team efforts with his wife Ruth. “They make fun of the fact that people aren’t clear anymore, and don’t value the skill of speaking the way they did.”
So, yes, you will learn — as Julia Kerr explained in her welcome speech during a rehearsal — why the speech was given in November even though the battle was in July.
Morgan Prince will air doubts by some historians about the story of Lincoln scratching the speech onto the back of an envelope, and raise the issue of Lincoln’s two-minute talk overshadowing main speaker Edward Everett (probably because his speech lasted two hours).
You’ll also hear music from the era played by Aria Mason and an explanation of its role for soldiers from Olivia Richards, including the recounting of a union band launching into northern tunes along the banks of the Rappahannock River. Confederates on the far bank clamored for southern songs and were obliged. The two sides ended trying to sing “Home, sweet home” through their tears.
Emily Welles will try to persuade the crowd that soldiers who suffer PTSD should be eligible for the Purple Heart award. The event is free, but donations will be accepted with all proceeds going to organizations that help vets coping with the disorder.
There are three parodies. One from Bob Newhart recreated by Joseph Franckiewicz, playing a press agent discussing the address with Lincoln. “You changed four score and seven to 87? … that’s sort of like Mark Anthony saying, ‘friends, Romans, countrymen, I got something I want to talk about’.”
Betsy Macko will do an Oliver Jensen parody mimicking President Dwight Eisenhower’s colloquial style: “I haven’t checked these figures, but 87 years ago I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental set up here in this country …”
And John Jones will show a Microsoft PowerPoint parody created by then-NASA computer scientist Peter Norvig demonstrating how the software can be PowerPointless.
But the renowned address is the focus, with Michelle Chavez detailing the historical impact and two students reciting the actual speech. The finale will be the benediction recited at the original dedication.
Borland expects the whole program to last about 90 minutes, and while he feels it will help show off the skills of an award-winning team deserving more public exposure, he said it also helps the students understand the value of their work. “We want them to know there’s a purpose to communication that goes beyond winning titles.”