“I have seen roses damasked, red and white,” goes the line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. Oak Park and River Forest High School student Sam Theis delivered that verse, along with a monologue from Romeo and Juliet, during the recent Chicago Branch National Shakespeare Competition, and now she’s on her way to the Big Apple.
Theis, 15, took first place in the local competition, which means the OPRF freshman will be traveling to New York City to perform the both passages in the English in Action National Shakespeare Competition at Lincoln Center Theater on April 23, which also happens to be The Bard’s birthday.
The English in Action competition is a “performance-based education program in which high school students nationwide read, analyze, perform, and recite Shakespeare’s work,” according to a statement released by program officials.
“In the competition’s three progressive levels, students perform in their own schools, at English-Speaking Union Branch competitions, and at the National Shakespeare Competition at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City,” the statement read.
According to officials, more than 300,000 students have participated in the competition since 1983.
“I performed a monologue by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet,” Theis said. “I’ve always loved the character. I really think he’s dynamic and funny, and the monologue is funny. He’s kind of making fun of his best friend.”
Theis, a member of OPRF’s Shakespeare Club, first won an in-school competition before advancing to the regional competition, where she performed the same sonnet and monologue in front of a different set of judges.
“Because the stakes are higher, every time I perform it, it gets more nerve-wracking,” Theis said. “But each time, the monologue and sonnet gets more deeply embedded in my brain.”
Christopher Broadwell, executive director for English in Action, said Theis is among 56 finalists selected from the more than 20,000 students who performed Shakespearean works throughout the country.
“We extend a heartfelt thank-you to the teachers who go well outside the hours of their school day to support their students and Shakespeare,” Broadwell said. “Teachers and their students are the foundation of [this competition].”
The national competition is judged by local teachers and theater community members. Seven to 10 students will advance to the competition’s final round, where they’ll perform a cold reading of a monologue and compete for the first-place award — “an all-expenses-paid scholarship to attend the Young Actors’ Summer School for two weeks at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London,” English in Action officials’ statement read.