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"A stage where every man must play his part"
Platteville student third in national forensics contest
Joe Sigwarth performs part of "The Merchant of Venice."

Joseph Sigwarth looks like neither a young Italian woman nor an old woman.

But Sigwarth portrayed Portia, the knitting woman and five other characters from William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” at the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association Nationals at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., in late June.

Sigwarth’s performance of 10 minutes of “Merchant” earned him third place in the Open Interpretation category in the nationals.

Sigwarth will be performing his “Merchant” selection during the Festival of the Arts in City Park Saturday around 9:45 a.m.

“Merchant” tells the story of the wooing of Portia, whose father supervises her wooing from beyond the grave. Three would-be suitors are given a character test that directs them to three chests.

“This was my third national tournament,” he said. “Every time you go there it’s a new outlook — instead of competing with people from your area judging you, you have people from California, Maine, all judging you, but you also get to meet people who are doing the same things you are — a lot of type A personalities. You can learn to communicate on a wider scale with people on a wide scale — Georgia or Colorado, just throwing out states here.”

Sigwarth started participating in forensics four years ago.

“I’m a huge people person; I love talking to people,” he said. “So when you can communicate with people, that’s one of the best gifts and life goals you can have.

“You can be a professional public speaker. That’s not specifically what I get out of it. But with public speaking, that’s a tool that, like learning to read, is something you can use your entire life. You can have all the knowledge you want, but you have to have an outlet for it.”

To perform “Merchant” required considerable preparation: “Pretty much you work at it as much as you can, probably every day,” he said. “With Shakespeare, you have to delve into not only the lines, but you have to think of how the character would say the lines to a modern audience.”

Preparation included refining his performance.

“I reblocked my piece probably twice before nationals,” he said. “I got to nationals, and I thought this is good, but there’s something missing. I performed it for a friend who hadn’t seen it in quite a while, and she said, ‘it’s OK.’ And that’s not what you want for nationals.”

To prepare for a wider audience, Sigwarth performed in front of extended family July 4 one year ago.
“I think that was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in a long time,” he said. “It’s something you have to deal with. There are expectations that people have with you and you want to meet their expectations.”

Sigwarth was essentially a player–coach this past year. He was the coach of Platteville Area Rhetoric and Debate Enthusiasts (PARADE), a group of home-schooled forensics competitors. Two of his team members, Ellen and A.J. Neumann, also competed in the NCFCA nationals. Ellen Neumann finished 12th in the Biographical Narrative category.
Ellen and Joe also performed 30 characters from a selection derived from the TV show “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” hosted by Art Linkletter.

Sigwarth is going to UW–Platteville this fall to pursue a business marketing career.