A Midspring Afternoon’s Dream: Shakespeare Recitation Competition

Stuyvesant students let their inner theater kids loose in the Shakespeare Recitation Competition!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It is March 28 in English teacher Dermott Hannon’s classroom after school. The desks, which normally face the whiteboard, point at the stage in the back of the room, where students recite one of Shakespeare’s monologues by heart in front of the judges and around 30 audience members. This year, the English department held their fifth Shakespeare recitation competition to show their love for the renowned playwright. Organized by Hannon, the competition was judged by English teacher Julie Sheinman, social studies teacher K. M. DiCo, art teacher Karen Leo, and special education teacher Cory Coleman. Out of the 21 participants, five winners, Clara Shapiro, Sloane Ireland, Nicole Itkin, William Summitt, and Claire MacDonald, won the competition and each received $20 as their prize.

As someone who participates in theater inside and outside of school, senior Nicole Itkin was thrilled to participate in her third Shakespeare competition. “I’m very involved in STC [the Stuyvesant Theater Community], and have directed ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘With Their Eyes.’ This year, I was also able to direct SING!,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. Much of her theater experience comes from directing shows and working behind the scenes to advise the actors and actresses on stage. While Itkin enjoyed being a cast director, she remarked on not having too many chances to go on stage herself, which was why the competition was a great opportunity for her.

Itkin chose to perform Viola’s sympathetic monologue from “Twelfth Night,” one she had already been familiar with. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with Viola’s character in particular (played by Christine Lin). I thought it would be fun to try a monologue that I had directed,” she said. Itkin remarked on the comfortable atmosphere she felt when performing. “The room was warm and inviting, with a lot of support for everyone going up to perform,” she added. In the end, she had a great experience and was one of the runner-ups. Itkin wishes for more theatrical contests and opportunities outside of STC and SING!: “I think a lot of people would enjoy that,” she said.

Senior Clara Shapiro, the first place winner of this year’s competition, is also a returning participant and has a lot of theater experience under her belt. Starting when she was eight years old, Shapiro had participated in a theater camp called Shakespeare and Company in the summer: “Every kid, no matter how young, got to perform one monologue and one scene from the play, and at the end of the two weeks, we put on the Tragedy for our family members in a white tent outside.” Ever since, she has become a fan of Shakespeare, or the Bard, as Shapiro refers to him.

Inspired by her friend Andrew Wainwright’s performance at camp a few summers ago, Shapiro recited Lord Capulet’s monologue from “Romeo and Juliet,” a Shakespeare classic. “[The monologue was] about how his daughter must marry the guy of ‘HONOURABLE PARTS’ that he has found for her or else ‘die,’” Shapiro wrote in an e-mail interview. While he is supposed to be taken seriously, Capulet’s character is juxtaposed with his outlandish threats toward Juliet: “Hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.” To become one with Capulet and understand his character, Shapiro printed a copy of his words and annotated the monologue. “Then, I did the technique that my grandparents taught me long ago—every night, I spoke the lines over and over again, and then I kissed the paper and put it under my pillow. Overnight, Lord Capulet and I fused,” she said.

Though she has participated in the competition for all four of her years at Stuyvesant, Shapiro experienced her fair share of nerves. “I sometimes feel like a monologue is a feathery spirit looping around inside of my stomach and my lungs, and the only way I’ll be able to breathe again is if I get onto the stage and let the spirit fly out,” she said. She remarked that she takes advantage of the competition to flaunt her deafening voice. “But the real brave ones, I realized, are the people who are far more quiet and gentle than I am who got up and performed in front of everybody. That took a brimming bucket of bravery,” she concluded.

Unlike Itkin and Shapiro, this competition was junior Matthew Tai’s first. Though he had no previous acting experience, he was inspired by working in stage crew in this year’s SING!. “I was like, ‘Oh, [SING!] looks fun, but let me try it out on a smaller scale,’ [and] thus I did the Shakespeare competition,” Tai said. “I would’ve died on the actual [SING!] stage.” Performing was a very last-minute decision, as Tai memorized the main character’s guilt-filled monologue from “Henry VI” in five minutes while walking up to the tenth floor. He shared similar sentiments with Itkin about the vibes of the audience and judges: “The whole thing was relaxed and everyone was very kind and encouraging.” Tai was proud of his performance and especially enjoyed throwing a prop sword across the room, though next year he would like to prepare for the competition sooner.

Encouragement from Hannon, his Shakespeare Lit teacher, convinced senior William Summitt to attend the competition as an audience member. However, while sitting in the audience, he decided to take a stab at reciting his own monologue. “I got inspired by all of the other amazing competitors, and wanted to be up on stage, crushing it like they were,” Summitt explained in an e-mail interview. He performed Richard II’s prison monologue from the tragedy “Richard II,” which had been one of his assignments for Hannon’s class. “I also happened to really resonate with the material which really allowed me to give everything to the performance,” he explained. Though Summitt was hesitant to go up on stage and perform, he felt welcomed by everyone else in the room to do so. “When in doubt, we should take the plunge,” he reflected, adding that he would have regretted not performing.

The Shakespeare Recitation Competition proved to be an enjoyable event for those who participated. While some students might have missed the competition this year, deliberating whether to perform or not to perform, they will have the opportunity to do so in the sixth competition next year.