Lakehill Preparatory School freshman Alanna Stern and her teacher Elizabeth Schmitt share a love of William Shakespeare that has them New York City-bound.
On May 1, Stern will compete against some 60 or so other devotees of the Bard at the Lincoln Center Mitzi Newhouse Theater.
The winner of the English-Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition will earn an all-expenses-paid scholarship to the American Shakespeare Center’s Theater Camp in Staunton, Virginia this summer.
Stern secured her free New York trip with a February victory at Highland Park High School, where a dozen North Texas students performed Shakespeare’s monologues and sonnets onstage in the school’s auditorium.
Professionals from Shakespeare Dallas judged the contest.
“I went there very nervous, actually,” Stern said. “But when I got there, and I was backstage with all the other contestants, it was actually really fun, because you’re with a bunch of people who are into the same things and have the same interests as you.”
The freshman has long been a fan of theater and acting, but she credits her interest in Shakespeare to Schmitt, who has taught her since seventh grade.
“I’m just happy when my students appreciate [Shakespeare] and [are] passionate about it,” Schmitt said. “This is so exciting, because Alanna kind of represents that what I’m doing isn’t in vain.”
Whatever internal tempest of nerves Stern may have battled as she performed “Sonnet 116” and Portia’s monologue from Julius Caesar, the judges didn’t seem to notice.
“Alanna is very composed on stage,” Schmitt explained. “She used a lot of confidence. She impressed the judges as very mature and in control of her material.”
Second place went to Arianna Cadeddu of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, who also performed “Sonnet 116” as well as Tamora’s monologue from Titus Andronicus.
The senior has worked with a handful of acting coaches through Booker T.’s Advanced Acting Skokos Learning Lab, an acting class that partners with the Dallas Theatre Center. Cadeddu hopes to pursue acting and film in college.
Grace Evans of All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth placed in third.
The English-Speaking Union launched the National Shakespeare Competition in 1983. Since then, more than 300,000 high school students have participated. Around 2,500 teachers participate in the competition each year.
Before advancing to the Dallas branch’s community level competition, students won competitions at their campuses. Six private schools, five public schools, and, for the first time, a homeschool group, The Home Educator’s Outsourcing Solution (THEO), participated.
Highland Park has hosted every Dallas branch contest, free of charge, and won it five times.
Schmitt, an English teacher and sponsor of the Shakespeare club at Lakehill, saw her first Shakespeare play when she was only 6 years old.
She went on to major in theater and then earned her master’s degree in Renaissance Studies from the University of Warwick in England.
Stern is grateful for Schmitt’s support. “She’s been more than a teacher, she’s been a mentor,” she said. “I don’t even know if I would’ve placed without her.”