Public speaker Eric Samuel Timm comes to SHS

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Public speaker Eric Samuel Timm comes to SHS

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On Wednesday, September 27th, nationally renowned public speaker, and Rochester native, Eric Samuel Timm came to Sartell High School to perform for the students and deliver an uplifting and inspirational message. But what was this message? And how did the students respond?

At 2:15, the entire student body of SHS was pulled from class and herded into the bleachers of the school’s gymnasium. When the show began, the kids were instructed to stand up and dance by Timm’s accompanying band as they performed Walk The Moon’s 2016 pop hit, “Shut Up And Dance” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” This band was later introduced as Minneapolis indie rock group Yam Haus. They were met with a profound lack of enthusiasm from the crowd.

As Yam Haus wrapped up their tunes, Eric Samuel Timm took the stage. He told a few jokes and captured the audience’s attention rather effectively. Unfortunately, just as the crowd began to settle in for an engaging speech, Timm instructed them to stand up once more, because Yam Haus was ready to play another song.

After halting the momentum of his presentation by reintroducing the band, Eric began to hastily scribble upon a large canvas with oil paints. This grand display of rudimentary artistic skill culminated in a portrait that resembled the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, with the word “DREAM” written alongside. This was the first instance of Timm introducing a rather captivating concept that would ultimately prove to be totally inconsequential and seemingly random.

Next, Eric offered to give his portrait of Dr. King to SHS history teacher Mr. Miller, on the sole condition that Miller do his “best dab” in front of the crowd. The kids were instructed to take out their phones and videotape the scene. The situation came off as more awkward than funny and captivating.

Timm’s first slice of sagely wisdom was the insistence that one wear a seatbelt at all times whilst in a vehicle. He bookended this first life lesson with one anecdote about how he received a ticket from a stereotypical Texan sheriff for not buckling up and another anecdote about shoveling dirt onto his best friend’s coffin. A friend that tragically passed away after a car crash in which he was not wearing a seatbelt. This brief acknowledgment of a genuine tragedy was incredibly jarring and betrayed the tone of his speech, only for it to not be mentioned again at any point. It must be emphasized that Timm’s run-in with the Texan sheriff took place long after the death of his best friend. So, like almost every concept introduced in this speech, this tragedy was inconsequential.

Eric Samuel Timm’s next piece of advice was to be honest. There was no link between this theme and the previous. He emphasized this supremely important life lesson by failing to recite a set of statistics. He had a student in the front row verify his stats through Google.

A strange and hammy gag involving a gas canister filled with water and a stack of firewood ensued. In the midst of this confusing prop comedy, Timm pulled out a bag of marshmallows. He threw handfuls of the sweet treats into the audience as a chorus of uncomfortable mumbling droned throughout the gymnasium. He singled out one particular young man and attempted to throw a marshmallow directly into his mouth. When the first attempt failed, he had the young man throw the marshmallow back to him, so that he could try again. Eric and three randomly selected members of the audience played catch with this increasingly filthy marshmallow for an uncomfortably long time.

Eric Samuel Timm finished his performance by reading a couple pages of vague, inspirational platitudes, attempting to engage the audience by telling them that the message he was reading was actually written by a future version of each and every individual in the crowd. Throughout the show, the dull drone of the mumbling audience had grown to a loud chatter, drowning out the speaker, whose inability to hold the crowd’s attention for more than half a minute made for a show that must have been nothing short of embarrassing for him. Timm closed out the performance by having Yam Haus play another song.

The band finished their final song and began packing up, only for SHS principal Brenda Steve to rush onto the stage and inform the students that there were still ten minutes left before the school day was over. She encouraged the students to request an encore from Yam Haus to fill up the time. There was a lackluster cheer from the audience, and the band took to the stage once more.

With a little research, one finds that Eric Samuel Timm isn’t your typical high school motivational speaker. He is actually a devout Christian, whose speaking engagements are often centered around religion. One of the sponsors of this particular school event was Chick-Fil-A, a famously Christian business. That very same Wednesday night, Timm was booked to perform at a religious community event. According to SHS sophomore Chris Herron, the show he delivered that evening was far better than the one the school received.

Some agree that the show the school received was ham-handed, confusing, and, ultimately, not at all impactful. This may be the fault of time constraints, or possibly the inability to highlight religious values in a public school performance. It may well have just been an off day for Eric, who, despite his failure to connect, clearly gave his best effort during the speech. I’m sure I speak for all of us here at SHS when I say that we are grateful to the performers for their time, and especially to the community members and organizers who funded their show. At no point are my critiques meant to be interpreted as ungrateful or snobbishly presumptuous. I merely wish to express my feelings about the performance from my own personal perspective.

The following day, my schoolmates and I were chastised by almost all of our teachers, hour after hour, for having been so talkative and unfocused during the previous day’s performance. Most students passively accepted guilt and subsequently dismissed the upset staff, having been reminded of their expectations for student behavior countless times. The staff’s decision to treat us like we had acted out of line angered me, personally, and my feelings would be validated within the coming days.

Of course, I don’t condone the disrespect of public performers. As a performer myself, I can say that there is nothing worse than an audience that doesn’t respect your performance. That being said, a performer must create an atmosphere to dictate the audience’s behavior and present something to them that rewards said behavior. In most performances, this job is largely done before the performer steps on stage, because the audience watching them is likely informed about what they’re seeing. When you have an audience that has no idea what they are about to watch, the job of creating the atmosphere falls squarely on the shoulders of the performer.

When you see a comedian, you are expected to laugh. When you attend an academic lecture, you are expected to listen silently. The Sartell student body had no idea what we were going to see. When Timm stepped onto the stage, he immediately created an atmosphere that allowed the audience to act in whichever manner they saw fit. He made a point of making us feel uninhibited. This certainly can make for a captivating, quality performance, but in order for it to work, the performer has to hold the audience’s attention in a death grip. The performer must be charismatic, someone you want to pay attention to. They must transition between topics smoothly, and chose to incorporate audience participation very carefully. The audience’s behavior was not so much the product of a childish, unruly student body, but the product of a botched performance.

On Friday of that week, SHS presented its students with another afternoon presentation. This time, it was an induction ceremony for the Sartell Athletic Hall Of Fame. We were informed long beforehand about what we would be seeing, and the well planned, well-executed presentation was met with nothing but respect from us. The ceremony actually ended up lasting longer than expected, and we were kept in the gymnasium for several minutes after the school day had ended. The crowd did not show any sign of restlessness and did not engage in disrespectful behavior for the duration of the event. Mrs. Steve was so impressed that she personally thanked the student body in an email following the presentation. To be fair, teachers were instructed to intersperse themselves amongst the student audience at this performance to help ensure proper behavior, and particularly distracting groups and individuals were singled out and talked to by staff members. As a performer, I can confidently assert that the more mature audience behavior was more so a product of a more mature presentation, though.

Now that all is said and done, I only hope that we’ve all learned something from these events. I’m certain the school had no intention of presenting us with an unfortunately flawed performance, and I still wish to express my deepest gratitude to those responsible for providing us with the opportunity to watch this speaker. My intention in criticizing this event to provide all readers with a deeper look into the world of performance, and the many factors that contribute to a successful show.

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