Thespians compete for the heart of the bard


Courtesy of Caitlyn Mitchell '20

Students perform monologues and sonnets during the competition.

Sacred Heart Greenwich junior Katie O’Shea and senior Caitlyn Mitchell competed in the annual English-Speaking Union (ESU) Greenwich Branch Shakespeare Competition February 26 at Christ Church Greenwich.  The experience of preparing and qualifying for the event challenged and inspired the participants.

The thirty-seventh annual national Shakespeare Competition hosted through the ESU has three stages.  The first stage is an in-school competition which took place at Sacred Heart February 6.  The ESU provides a packet of selected Shakespeare monologues that students must memorize and perform for a panel of judges.

Caitlyn Mitchell ’20 performing Sonnet 116 at the Greenwich branch competition. Courtesy of Caitlyn Mitchell ’20

The second stage of the competition is the Greenwich Branch Competition.  At the branch competition, students perform a monologue as well as a sonnet. 

This year, Caitlyn, Katie, sophomore Isabella Stewart, and freshman Madeleine Abramson participated in the in-school phase of the competition.  The panel of judges included members of the English and Arts Departments.  When all of the students completed their monologues, the judges conferred to tally the score sheets and determine the winner and runner up.

Katie won the February 6 in-school contest, and Caitlyn placed as the runner-up.  Katie and Caitlyn advanced to the branch competition February 26. Katie looked forward to participating in the Shakespeare contest because she wanted to bring life to her new character.

“I was inspired to compete in the competition because I really enjoy working on new characters especially where they’re as fun as Malvolio, and I love being able to bring a lot of character to one small scene,” Katie said.  “I feel that if you can put a lot of effort into one small thing you can make it truly special.”

Katie performed Malvolio’s monologue from the Twelfth Night (III.IV.70-90) for both the in-school competition and the branch competition, as well as Sonnet 33 for the branch competition alone.  Katie chose this specific monologue to bring depth and comedy to one of her favorite characters. According to Katie, she loves finding the deeper meaning in Shakespeare’s texts that many people do not recognize in his work.

“I love Shakespeare because it is a hidden gem that people don’t know has a lot of life to it,” Katie said.  “It tells stories about life, about humans, about people, and it’s just really meaningful which a lot of people don’t consider about Shakespeare.”

Caitlyn first participated in the Shakespeare competition during her sophomore year.  Her performance of a monologue from Much Ado About Nothing secured her spot in the branch competition of the contest. This year, Caitlyn performed Marc Antony’s monologue from Julius Caesar (III.II.94-113) for the in-school and branch competitions, as well as Sonnet 116.  

“Julius Caesar is my favorite tragedy and what I really like about him [Marc Antony] as a character is that he’s loyal and he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes,” Caitlyn said.  “I love how Shakespeare’s work is gender fluid; like a female can play the male roles and I like to do male monologues; the men tend to have a more complex, more extreme monologues.”

Caitlyn is grateful to have attended the branch competition. The experience gave her the opportunity to meet other students who share her passion.  Students from all over Connecticut also competed.

“[The other students] were so passionate about Shakespeare and wanted to be there because they love to act,” Caitlyn said. “It was really refreshing to see so many young and talented teenagers all gathered together in appreciation for Shakespeare’s works.”

Miss Michaela Gorman ’05, Upper School Theatre Teacher and Director of Upper School Theatrical Productions, hopes that students will change their views and judgments on Shakespeare and gain unique opinions. 

“I hope that students who participate in the contest will be able to engage with Shakespeare in a new way,” Miss Gorman said.  “Sometimes I worry that our culture or our society puts Shakespeare’s work on a pedestal, particularly in terms of the notions of classical theatre.  This [competition] is a chance to do something that feels sort of like the antithesis of that because it encourages you to memorize a monologue, but also to make it your own to like deliver a cheesy love poem or run around or roll on the floor or whatever you think is the right choice for your character.”

Left to right, Katie O’Shea ’21, Marty Gnidula, Caitlyn Mitchell ’20, Ivan Lazaro, Rowan Trowbridge-Wheeler, and Talya Braverman after the competition. Courtesy of Caitlyn Mitchell ’20

Caitlyn believes that small tasks can have a great impact on others in the competition.

“My motive always has been to do little things with great love,” Caitlyn said.  “When I perform, I hope to inspire the audience or change the audience’s perspective about something.”

Miss Gorman, a supporter in finding love in small things, wishes for students to find passion in timeless characters. 

“The character’s feelings, their thoughts, and their struggles have been captivating people for generations and so I think it gives everyone the opportunity to engage with that in their own personal life,” Miss Gorman said.  “I think it allows students to find the heart of these characters.”

The year’s Greenwich Branch winner Ivan Lazaro from ACES Educational Center for the Arts, advanced to the ESU National Shakespeare Competition at the Public Theater New York City April 27.

Featured Image Courtesy of Caitlyn Mitchell ’20