Manhattan's Only Therapeutic College Prep Independent School

Interview with a Shakespeare Superstar

Earlier this spring, Maggie, Stevenson class of 2020, qualified for the English Speaking Union’s annual Shakespeare Competition. The competition was held at the Morgan Library. It included students from all over New York City reciting Shakespearen monologues in front of a live audience. Maggie expounded on the experience, her love of Shakespeare, the monologue she chose for the competition, her performing arts experience at Stevenson, and her future in the interview below.

(Note: This interview has been slightly condensed.)

Q: What do you love about studying Shakespeare?

A: I adore studying Shakespeare because I love words and I love psychology. I find it fascinating how characters respond to situations they’re put in, and the parallels that can be drawn between these Elizabethan plays and things we see in the world now. The phrasing is incredible – there are layers and layers of puns and double entendres, and phrases that stick in my mind for months. Both from a formalist and humanistic lens, Shakespeare is fascinating.

Q: Why did you choose the monologue from Richard the III that you chose?

A: It took me a while to choose my monologue, but I settled on something from Richard because it’s just more fun to be a villain, and the monologue I chose focuses in on that sense of villainy, and the motivations behind it. It’s a section of the very first lines we hear spoken in Richard III, and since it’s expository, the internal conflicts of the character are shown in a very different way than they would be during a high-emotion breakdown. The fact that the character is speaking directly to the audience gives me, as an actor, a lot of things to play with in terms of various emotions and subtleties. To what extent does Richard actually want to be a villain? Is his narcissism a coping mechanism for low self-esteem? Is he aware of this? There’s a lot to play with there, and that type of acting appeals to me more than collapsing on the ground in tears.

Q: What was it like going through the various phases of the competition?

A: Going through the stages of the competition was definitely something new for me! My Shakespeare class all chose monologues and practiced them, and we performed for a small group of teachers during lunch. That was pretty relaxed, since we all knew each other. Then, I moved on to regional semi-finals at the NYC chapter of the English Speaking Union, which was a very different time – I didn’t know any of my competitors, or the judges, but I made some friends and felt pretty good about my performance. They chose three of us to advance to regional finals, and [Stevenson Performing Arts Teacher] Jackie Silvestri and I started rehearsing in earnest during the lead-up. We practiced during student prep nearly every day, going over physicality, intent, and the emotions being expressed. For the finals, Jackie and my classmate Persephone accompanied me to the Morgan Library, where 14 students from all over the city were going to be competing. We had a lot more time to talk with each other before the competition, because we were all in a room together for about an hour before we competed. We were in an actual theater space this time, and the acoustics and lighting were very different from what we’d had before. Everyone was really kind and supportive, and I’m actually still in contact with several of the other finalists!

Q: How has your experience in classes like Improv and Shakespeare fostered your creative and artistic growth?

Having classes like Shakespeare and Improv baked into my day at Stevenson has been great for me. I’ve done theatre in some capacity for a long time, but having it as a part of my school day – the first two classes of my day, in fact – has been really freeing…the classes not only nurture my creative side, they remind me to approach conversations in History and Senior Seminar from different angles. I actually did a literary analysis project on Richard III for Senior Seminar based on the motivations and nuances that Jackie and I had discussed in preparing for the competition!

Q: To what extent do you anticipate Shakespeare and performance to be a part of your post-Stevenson life?

In terms of Shakespeare post-Stevenson, it probably won’t be as prominent in my academics. I’ll be pursuing my BSN at Hunter (I’m very lucky to be a part of the Hunter-Bellvue Honors Nursing Scholars program), so most of my classes are science-based, and later Nursing-related, without much room for extracurriculars. However, I love Shakespeare, and it feeds a different part of my brain. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for theatre clubs that might let me explore more, and I actually do readings of various Shakespeare plays with my friends on Zoom as a way to stay connected while social distancing. It’s a great deal of fun, and I want to keep up with it going forward.