Humans of TCGMC: Daniel Hodges
This week, Josh interviewed Daniel Hodges, who has over 12 years’ experience as a high school speech and debate coach.
Josh: I’M HERE AT NICOLLET DINER TO INTERVIEW DANIEL HODGES, WHO IS NOT ONLY A BRILLIANT SOLOIST IN OUR UPCOMING HOLIDAY CONCERT, BUT AN EXTRAORDINARY HUMAN. THROUGH OUR CHAT, WE DISCOVERED THAT YOU ARE A HIGH SCHOOL… WHAT WOULD WE CALL YOU?
Daniel: I say “high school speech and debate coach,” because most people have a frame of reference for what that is, but I coach on the speech side. There are a lot of categories, but as a speech coach and as an actor myself, I coach a lot of performance-based categories. It’s basically competitive speaking and competitive acting – I work mostly with the competitive acting.
I’ve been performing since I was a child. I’m currently in my second year of not doing a theater production, after many years of performing. My undergraduate degree is in Theater and Communications, with a double major in English. I have an M.A. in Performance Studies, which is rooted in theater and music. It was theory-based, and I wrote academically. I acted professionally for 4 years, and eventually I moved to Minneapolis. I decided I wanted to put more time into my coaching, though, and I’ve been doing it for about 12 years. It was more fulfilling.
Josh: YOUR PERFORMANCES ARE PHENOMENAL. HELP WALK ME THROUGH THE TRANSITION FROM SCHOLARLY WORK AND PROFESSIONAL ACTING TO COACHING SPEECH.
Daniel: I competed in speech and debate in high school, and I started coaching the year after I graduated, when I was 18. I did it through college. I stopped coaching while I was a professional actor and in grad school, and when I graduated, a friend, who got the head coaching position at Apple Valley, told me that “If you come here, we can do the coaching thing together.”
Josh: I HAVE A STRONG THEATER BACKGROUND MYSELF, BUT I STILL DON’T HAVE A FULL GRASP OF SPEECH AND DEBATE. CAN YOU HELP ME UNDERSTAND?
Daniel: The National Speech and Debate Association is actually the oldest academic honor society in the country. Students compete nationwide. You have debate, which is traditional debate, and in speech, you have categories such as Oratory and Informative Speaking, and various acting categories. In my categories, you take a piece of literature, cut it down to 10
minutes, and that’s what the student performs. It can be from a play, a book, or even stories from news articles.
Josh: IS IT VERBATIM?
Daniel: Yes. There are original writing categories, but most are based on published texts. Last year, I coached my student, Semaj, who performed a memoir by Gabourey Sidibe, who was in Precious, the shows Empire and American Horror Story, because she identified with the young, plus-size black woman. We created a piece based on the words from her memoir. Semaj actually placed 3rd in the nation this summer at the National Speech and Debate Tournament.
Josh: THAT’S PHENOMENAL! WHAT DOES A TYPICAL SESSION LOOK LIKE FOR YOU AND YOUR STUDENTS?
Daniel: Let me say that this is my heart, and one of a few things I can say I am good at. My students are the best. They’re smarter than us, they know more, they have access to more information, and no matter what the media wants to tell you, they are the future of this country and we are in great hands. I can vouch for that. It’s one-on-one coaching. Apple Valley is one of the top programs in the country, and we push our kids really hard and have a lot of fun. A lot of times, you are a friend, mentor, parent, counselor…
Josh: …COMING OUT SOUNDBOARD?
Daniel: Yes! The year before last, I had a pair of students perform in a category called Duo and became the national runner-ups. Both of them came out to me as queer during the school year. It’s definitely one of the safest spaces for queer students. It’s where I found my safe space.
A session is about 30 to 60 minutes, once or twice a week. My critiques are always based on honesty. I want them to connect with the literature, and I want to forget that I’m listening to a high school student. I want to believe what I’m seeing and hearing.
Josh: OBVIOUSLY, HIGH SCHOOL IS A TIME OF CHANGE FOR TEENAGERS. WHAT ARE THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECTS OF WORKING WITH THAT AGE GROUP?
Daniel: When kids have issues at home that you have no way to influence. All you can do is try to make their life better when they’re with you. What they have to go home to makes it hard for them to do well in school, and often my most successful students, who pour themselves most into a performance, have life experiences that most people will never have.
The upside is that if you can get that kid to a level of performance where they’re nationally competitive, there are colleges that will pay their full tuition. In the last 4 years, I’ve gotten 4 kids full rides to school because they performed in the national rounds and got recruited. These are kids who would have never been able to attend without it.
[A karaoke singer grows in volume in the background] Is that a person?
[Josh and Daniel stopped as a young woman singing the high notes in “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” You go, Glenn Coco.]
Josh: FOR OUR READERS WHO CAN’T SEE, I WANT TO HIGHLIGHT THE LOVE EXUDING FROM THIS MAN WHEN HE TALKS ABOUT HIS STUDENTS.
Daniel: This is the thing that is my number one. I don’t care how many chorus rehearsals I miss. I’ve missed 2 CPP’s for my students. Kids are smart and so cool. They keep me young. I’m not getting a Tick Tock, though.
Josh: WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? ANYWAY… I’VE HAD THE PLEASURE OF TALKING TO A FEW EDUCATORS, AND PERHAPS WHAT I FIND MOST COMPELLING IS THAT YOU DO THIS ALONGSIDE YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER. I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE OUT THE CONCRETE WORK YOU’VE DONE FOR THE CHORUS, THOUGH. WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOU.
Daniel: Thank you. I’ve done fundraising for other non-profits for 10 years, and the chorus provided me the opportunity to use my professional skills. Having 3 full-time people to operate an organization this size is not sustainable. I joined the Board of Directors last year, and this year I chaired the Development Committee. As a musical theater performer, I’ve done a lot of choreography, and I’m doing a lot of it for the holiday show.
I also worked with Sing It Forward last year, and this year I’ve been able to organize efforts for Give to the Max Day, where we doubled what we raised last year – $8,000! And now, we’re just scratching the surface. We’ve only taken a small piece of what we deserve, and in working together, we can get all that we deserve. Not only can we sing, we can do the advocacy work that we want to do. If we want to get out of the Cities, to travel, it will cost money. With Gerald on board and a new Executive Director, now is the time! It will take more than me; everybody in the chorus will have to decide it’s something that matters to us. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but as long as I’m here, that will be my focus.