Growing up in small-town Montana, Bethany Denton's parents and teachers told her what she knew already: she was brilliant. Bethany couldn't help but feel destined for something big, even though she often skipped her school readings and phoned it in. Why try hard when you already know everything?
In high school, Bethany joined the speech and debate team and started winning medals in an event called Serious Oral Interpretation. One afternoon Bethany went to the bookstore and stumbled across a monologue by American author Joyce Carol Oates entitled Nuclear Holocaust, from her play I Stand Before You Naked. It's a first-hand account of a religiously devout and mentally unstable Southerner who eagerly awaits the world's destruction. It was the perfect kind of material for a Serious Oral Interpretation monologue, so Bethany bought the book. Her dramatic performance of this piece soon won her a trip to Las Vegas to compete against teenagers from across the country.
Bethany spent the next couple months slacking off, per usual. Later that summer in Las Vegas, Bethany steps in front of a room full of strangers and realizes that she's made a huge mistake.
Bethany Denton wrote and produced this story, with editing help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White from KCRW. Track image by Angie Foreman.