All the World’s a Stage: The Shakespeare Competition
Just over 400 years after poet and playwright William Shakespeare’s death, his work was quietly celebrated in Packer’s very own Pratt Theater.
A panel of English and theater teachers watched as aspiring actors delivered some of Shakespeare’s most renowned monologues with as much feeling and verve as they could muster, judging on both their understanding and delivery of the speech. These performers were participating in the English Speaking Union (ESU) Shakespeare Competition, an annual event that occurs at schools around the country.
The competition went largely unnoticed by most of the school, despite it propelling one such student, Abbey Flamm (‘19) to citywide competition. The previous year, Carden Katz (‘18) had the same opportunity. This is one unusual and exciting aspect of the competition for students of the underappreciated performing arts at Packer—ESU gives drama-savvy students a chance to gain formal recognition of their talents on a wider scale; if not nationally, at least on a citywide level.
Under the guidance of Ali Boag, theater director, chair of the arts department, and self-proclaimed Shakespeare enthusiast, interested students carefully chose short speeches from a selection of over 90, and then studied and memorized the monologues. At the New York City competition, students who won in their schools again recited their speech, this time also accompanied by the memorization and performance of a Shakespearean sonnet.
“I think any kind of memorization is a good thing. On one level, it’s quite an old-fashioned thing, but on another level it’s fun to learn a speech just for the hell of learning a speech, as it were, and learning a Shakespeare sonnet will probably stay with you all your life,” said Mr. Boag, on the virtues of the experience. “I know from my experience that the stuff I learned when I was in my teens, I can still quote it now.”
Abbey, this year’s in-school winner, chose to perform a speech from the comedy As You Like It. Though she was only on stage for a minute, her energy and presence was evident in her recitation of the humorous, witty speech. For the city competition, Abbey chose to read Sonnet 12, a deliberate contrast to her monologue. Though she didn’t place in that competition, she felt it was still a valuable experience, one unlike others she ordinarily has access to at Packer.
“It was just a really unique and cool experience to be surrounded by people who all had the same love and same passion for Shakespeare, and it was something that was bringing us all together,” she said. “It kind of reinstated what I love to do, which is to act, and to perform, and to be in front of a group of people telling them what I’ve been doing and all the hard work I’ve put into it. Even though I didn’t make it up into the final four, I was really proud of my performance.”
It is clear that, even four decades after Shakespeare wrote these words, they are still rife with meaning applicable to modern lives.
“There is a sense in which there is a universality about the themes that [Shakespeare] is dealing with that have stood the test of time. And if we found that the world had moved on and that the bulk of what he said was no longer relevant at all, then I think he would not occupy that position any longer,” said Mr. Boag. “But the fact is, he does, and that’s because he speaks to a human being’s sense of themselves in a way that is very rare and very profound and very permissive in the sense that there is a generosity of spirit and understanding that cannot really be matched.”