Up-And-Coming: Kyra McConnell


Students convene during the closing ceremony of NHD nationals (Photo courtesy Kyra McConnell).

Will Sutton, Photography Editor

Up-And-Coming’ is a recurring segment in which the Harborlight interviews students who excel in extracurricular pursuits. In 2017, Kyra McConnell’s National History Day Performance advanced to the national level of competition. I sat down with the senior to talk about the project, her takeaways, and the future.


Sutton: For those who don’t know, can you explain what NHD is?

McConnell: Yeah! They changed it this year, so every student has to do it. So instead of just writing a research paper, you have the option of creating a research documentary, performance, or a paper. Basically, you spend about four months researching a person or an event in history that relates to a pretty big umbrella theme. Last year’s was “Taking a Stand in History”, this year is “Conflict and Compromise”, so you have to make a thesis based on how that event relates to the theme. You present it to your class, if you do a documentary or a performance.


Sutton: And then you moved on to regionals…?

McConnell: Oh it’s a national competition actually (laughs). So there’s winners in the school division, Mr. Hoy picks those, as well as the teachers. And then there’s a district competition, and you can move on from that, and then there’s states, and then there’s nationals in Washington, D.C.


Sutton: So what was your topic and what inspired your choice?

McConnell: My pick was a performance, a 10 minute long monologue on Margaret Sagner. She coined the term ‘birth control’ and founded Planned Parenthood. I found her by- well, I knew I wanted to do something with women’s rights, because that’s something that I’m very passionate about. I actually went looking through my textbook for different women, because all I knew was like, Susan B. Anthony, I was so basic (laughs). So I started looking through different decades when the women’s movement was strongest, and in the ‘20s, I found her name. So I researched her a little bit and I was like, “Wow, that’s really cool” so I decided to do her.


Sutton: Take me through the creative process behind the project. How did you come up with the idea for the performance?

McConnell: Actually, the year before me, Steph Pett [Class of 2017]  did a monologue. I read hers, and what she had was just one person, alone on stage, talking to- well, she wasn’t really talking to anyone it was more of a reflective piece. I decided that I wanted to do something like that, but have Sagner talking to a real person in her life, in her work. So I went through some sources and I found her prison diary, which was really cool, so I read the whole thing. And I decided to set the monologue in the prison cell-

Officer Ford (walking by): Have a nice weekend!

McConnell: You too! So yeah, it was in the prison cell she was in for 30 days. And I tried to kind of tell the story from that perspective, and have her talking to a real inmate that she was with. And so I crafted a piece around that: she was a fourth wall character, the other inmate, and sorta crafted a long conversation.


Sutton: What made up the majority of the work on the project? How much time did you spend working on the performance part?

McConnell: I started writing the script in early December, the project was due January 12. So I spent about a month doing actual script writing, I memorized it in a week, which like, I advise: don’t spend a week memorizing, take at least two weeks, like, minimum. But yeah, the rest of the time – 3 months – was spent researching. Heavy researching, like, I was in the library on Christmas Eve. I went hardo. After that, once I started advancing in the competitions, I had to do the monologue about three times a week, just to keep it in my mind, because it was so long. I spent eight months with this as a central point in my life, I was always thinking about it.


Sutton: Did [your performance] evolve as you moved through competitions?

McConnell: Yeah, I made some changes. I went to Ms. Sisk, and I worked with Mrs. Petrie really closely about it. We kind of took judge’s feedback and molded the monologue around that, to fit what they were looking for. They were minor changes, though.


Sutton: Gotcha. What was the most valuable takeaway from the whole NHD experience?

McConnell: That’s quite the heavy hitter. I’d say I learned the importance of telling stories. And that, the more we honour the past and study the people who came before us, the better we can shape the future and fight for what’s right, right now. It’s interesting, because Planned Parenthood – I learned about its foundation, and it’s in jeopardy right now. And that is really powerful. You can learn what you want to stand up for by studying history.


Sutton: So you’re involved in drama club here.

McConnell: Yeah!

Sutton: Is performance something you want to pursue professionally?

McConnell: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. I want to keep theatre in my life, I don’t know if I want to it professionally. I’d love to teach someday, also, but it’s definitely something that I want to keep doing.

Sutton: And what inspired your desire to teach?

McConnell: (Laughs) Mrs. Petrie. Working with her was really cool. And I was like, “I want to work with students like this.” Giving them creative freedom, but helping them in the process – that was so impactful on my life, and I have a really close relationship with her now.

Kyra McConnell is starring as Roxie Hart in the upcoming HHS production of Chicago. She will graduate in 2018.