At this year’s Shakespeare event, the virtual play’s the thing

This year’s Chariho Shakespeare Competition, on Feb. 11, took place in a virtual format due to COVID-19 restrictions. Top row, L to R: judges Sandra Laub, Dana Hall, Rebecca Burns and Aimee Blanchette; middle row, Superintendent Gina Picard, judge Cynthia Skelton, judge Johannah LaFountain and competitor Isaiah Planck; bottom row: competitors Christian Sullivan, Mya Card and Regan Clark, and Principal Craig MacKenzie. Zoom photo courtesy of Sandra Laub.


WOOD RIVER JCT. — The pandemic has impacted almost every Chariho activity, including the district’s 10th annual Shakespeare Competition. But as everyone in the performing arts knows, the show must go on, so the competition took place virtually last Thursday.

Four students competed this year and a team of judges chose a winner based on each student’s score. 

Mya Card, a junior, sophomore Isaiah Planck, junior Christian Sullivan and freshman Regan Clark each presented a monologue from a Shakespeare play as well as a sonnet.

English teacher and Shakespeare Club adviser Sandra Laub hosted the event.

“We have rehearsed and prepared for this day in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the English-speaking Union, a 100-year-old national organization,” she said. “What a strange and genius adaptation this year has been for everybody, and I want to thank those students, all four of you, for joining us in this unusual year in Shakespeare.”

Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie, who, with Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard, watched the performances on computer monitors, praised organizers and students for surmounting this year’s challenges.

“I’m proud of our students and Ms. Laub for their commitment to challenging themselves at the highest levels in the face of obstacles brought by the pandemic,” he said. “Interpretation of ‘The Bard’ is difficult enough when simply parsing out the innuendo, but to perform, in tone, gesture and expression, to bring the word to life in a live Zoom [virtual format] adds yet another dimension to the challenge, and all the contestants and their facilitator rose to the occasion.”

Judging the performances, in addition to Laub, were humanities specialist Dana Thomas Hall, social studies teacher Johannah LaFountain, social studies teacher Aimee Blanchette, librarian Cynthia Skelton and English and performing arts teacher Rebecca Burns.

Before the performances started, Laub explained how the performances would be scored. 

“We will judge our students on how well they understand the meaning of Shakespeare’s language, how they use it to create a character for the monologue and a sequence of ideas for the sonnet.”

Christian Sullivan received the highest score for his performance of the monologue from “Othello,” Act 2, Scene 1. Isaiah Planck was the runner-up for his performance of the monologue from Act 2, Scene 2 of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“This is my third year doing the competition,” Sullivan said. “My freshman year I placed fourth, my sophomore year I placed second, and this year I placed first.”

One of the challenges of not having a live audience, Sullivan noted, was summoning the energy to deliver his best performance.

“One of the biggest challenges of adapting to a virtual format was finding the motivation to do my best,” he said. “I really feel that removing a live experience with your peers really reduces that motivation that we bounce off of each other to do what we do. However, with a lot of support from Mrs. Laub, I was able to find that motivation to do my best work, and it paid off.” 

Hall said the students seemed to embrace the virtual format.

”I think the performing arts students know how to make a ‘Zooming’ environment work best for their performances,” she said. “They are more adaptable and have more experience with virtual performances than we give them credit for. They have been performing virtually in the performing arts classes and during drama rehearsals.  Christian Sullivan helped out with the Hope Valley Elementary School Drama Club last year. Because of the pandemic, he often had to interact, model, and perform for the kids he worked with virtually.”

Sullivan and Planck will perform at the state competition on March 13 and the national competition will be in April in New York City.  All the events will be virtual.

“Ms. Laub and I have accompanied our school winners to the state competition for many years,” Hall said. “Chariho students always place amongst the best in the state because they are committed and confident in their Shakespeare performances.”

Sullivan said he was relieved that the arts were alive and well at Chariho, despite the pandemic.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to still recite the Bard’s words, despite having to do it virtually,” he said.“Not everybody is trying to preserve things that could be lost currently, such as the arts. We’re trying, and that says something.”


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