REENFIELD — Attendance at the annual Shakespeare Monologue Competition is a step back more than 400 years ago to the Elizabethan era, a time of royalty, elegance, rich foods and, of course, Shakespeare and theater.
The 21st annual Shakespeare Monologue Competition takes place at 7 p.m., January 29 in the Cougar Meeting Room at Greenfield-Central High School, 810 N. Broadway. Admission is free.
The idea for a monologue competition featuring the works of playwright William Shakespeare was the brainchild of Greenfield-Central English teachers Jill Slinker and Susie Schoeff. Slinker learned about a state-wide and national monologue contest through a school visit to Lawrence Central. She brought the information back to Schoeff and the two concocted the idea for an annual monologue festival at Greenfield-Central.
Schoeff teaches two Shakespeare plays a year to her high-ability English students: a comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet.”
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For the unit of study, each student chooses an area of interest — daily living, clothing, dance, music and architecture — and writes a research paper on the selected topic.
Schoeff believes the research pays off. It helps them to better understand the context of the plays they read, she said.
When January and the time for the monologue competition roll around, the students put their research into practice. The idea of the competition, Schoeff said, is to recreate Elizabethan England — the time in which Shakespeare wrote and performed his plays.
Students who researched and wrote papers on daily living are in charge of the refreshments; those who studied architecture design a backdrop for the performers; those who researched clothing are in charge of costuming the ushers and servers for the event.
The students are very aware of the British class system, Schoeff explains. For example, the ushers are dressed as upper class citizens, while the servers are dressed as lower class citizens or commoners.
The competition, open to the public, begins with a trumpet flourish, provided by a member of the band.
Refreshments are served from a menu of authentic Elizabethan recipes. Previous events have included such confections as gingerbread, apple pie, manchet bread (a type of medieval roll,) ginger ale and sparkling grape juice.
Following refreshments, the competitors recite their monologues. Participation in the contest isn’t limited to just the freshmen in high-ability English. Schoeff admits that she does give her freshmen extra credit for participation, but it’s open to everyone. Over the years, the number of contestants has ranged from 7 to as many as 15.
Participants select a monologue from a list provided by the English Speaking Union, an organization dedicated to helping people realize their potential by giving them skills and confidence in communication to give voice to ideas and share them with others.
Winners on the local level receive medallions, while the first place winner goes on to compete at the state level at Butler University in Indianapolis in February. The winner of the state competition attends the national convention in New York City, where the grand prize is a scholarship to study at the Globe Theater in London.
As a judge, English teacher Jill Slinker looks for how well the student understands the character and the situation, and then portrays that to the audience.
While the judges deliberate, entertainment is provided.
The musical selections are chosen based on the musical talent available in the high-ability English class. Any members of the band in the class are usually recruited to perform at the competition, Schoeff said.
“One year we had the Elizabethan jazz band because all of the student musicians played brass instruments,” Schoeff laughed.
An Elizabethan dance exhibition follows the musical entertainment. Schoeff points out the difference in dance styles among the classes. Commoners would have danced a jig, while the upper class would have danced a Pavane or a Galliard, Schoeff said.
“The Gailliard was a lively dance that was Queen Elizabeth’s personal favorite,” she added.
Although Shakespeare’s plays were written in the late 1500s, he still is widely read, studied and performed today. Schoeff hopes the competition allows her students to “crawl inside the skin of a Shakespearean character” and discover an understanding of the lines.
“He has universal themes,” Schoeff, explained. “The human experience that he puts forth never changes. We can still connect to it.”
What: The 21st annual Shakespeare Monologue Competition
When: 7 p.m., January 29
Where: Cougar Meeting Room, Greenfield-Central High School, 810 N. Broadway
Attendance is free and refreshments are provided