Three years. Three different events. Three times in the finals round.
Over the last three years as a member of the Truman High School forensic team, Michael Cohen has made a name for himself. In 2011, he placed fourth in humorous interpretation at the National Forensic League’s National Speech and Debate Tournament. In 2012, he made it to finals again, but this time in duo interpretation. He placed fifth with partner Tara Williams.
So this year when Cohen failed to make it out of the preliminary rounds of his primary event, dramatic interpretation, the thought of a three-peat started to vanish.
“This year, I really just wanted to go for the experience,” said the May 2013 graduate. “I didn’t even think that I would be competing in these high level rounds.”
When students at the national tournament, which ended June 21 in Birmingham, Ala., fail to move past the preliminary rounds of their main event, they have the option of going on to supplementary or consolation events. Cohen chose to try his hand at Storytelling with a piece entitled “The Boy With Two Belly Buttons.” The piece, which he took to state two years ago, is about a boy who is on a quest to find out why he has two belly buttons and to see if he can give his spare one away.
The gamble paid off well for Cohen. Not only did he make it to finals, but he placed second in the nation. Ryan McCrary, a May 2013 graduate of Blue Springs South, placed sixth in the same event.
“I did not think I would go as far as I did because I hadn’t prepared substantially,” he said. “Despite not breaking into finals in dramatic interpretation, I still made it to the top six in the nation in three different events, which was my goal. It was a very proud moment.”
Cohen said making it to finals in three different events is unusual because normally, students focus on one event during their high school career and try to excel at that.
“After I went to finals in HI (humorous interpretation), I set a goal for myself to try to win that event. But I hit that second year slump and nothing was really happening with HI. At the same time, the duo piece was having excellent success. Then we went to finals in that, which is probably the most difficult event,” he said. “After that, I thought there was no limit.”
Cohen will attend the theater school at DePaul University in Chicago, Ill., this fall, majoring in acting. He said after researching different acting schools, he felt like this was the one that fit him the best.
“Chicago is more of a theater community in general,” he said. “I am excited to restart, not forgetting the things that happened before, but utilizing the best of what I learned as I move forward.”
Page 2 of 2 - Ultimately, Cohen said he wants to be a successful working actor.
“I am always reminded when I am watching a good movie or play that it is about re-creating human life and human connections,” he said about what he enjoys about acting. “That is how we learn, how we relate to people. It is how we figure things out.”
Looking back on his high school career, Cohen said it is all about being at the right place at the right time and meeting the right people. He said without those people guiding him, he does not believe he would be in this place in his life today.
“Living in Korea until I was 6, I never thought that I would move to America or move to Missouri. Every peg had to fit into the right slot, and I feel like I am lucky that I met the right people and experiences the right things at the right time,” he said. “The number one thing I have learned is that you get what you put in. Nobody ever gets anywhere without doing the work. I dedicated my whole life to those 10 minutes of HI my sophomore year. I let things slip, but because I worked hard, I was successful. I never would have gotten into theater school without the dedication I put into last summer and first semester on my auditions. I learned about work ethic and that you get out what you put in.”