News And Events

Denver student performs at the 36th Annual National Shakespeare Competition in New York City

April 30, 2019 — New York City: April 29th may have been a normal Monday for most high school students, but for Sofie Berg from Denver School of the Arts it will be a day to remember forever. Sofie, student of Shawn Hann, placed as a semifinalist at the 36th Annual National Shakespeare Competition celebrating William Shakespeare's birthday while competing against 50 students from around the US on stage at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater. The event is the culmination of a year-long competition hosted by the English-Speaking Union (ESU).

To qualify for the National Shakespeare Competition semi-finals, Sofie won the regional ESU Denver Branch Shakespeare Competition earlier this year.

Veteran judge and acclaimed actor Dana Ivey commented on the student performances,

"I am always amazed by the delight and focus these students bring to their investigation of the text. They often bring surprises in interpretation that are entertaining and enlightening."

Each year, more than 20,000 high school students participate in the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition at the school, regional and national levels through the help of more than 2,500 teachers and 53 ESU branches nationwide. As part of the competition, students perform a monologue and recite a sonnet from Shakespeare and are judged on their understanding of their selected texts and on their ability to communicate their interpretation to the audience. Through this school-based program, students in grades 9-12 develop critical thinking and speaking skills and increase their self-confidence through the performance of Shakespeare's work.

Since 1983, the English-Speaking Union has given more than 325,000 students of all backgrounds the opportunity to bring the timeless works of Shakespeare to life and to learn to express his words with understanding, feeling and clarity. The competition has been recognized by the Globe Center, the Children's Theatre Foundation of America and the American Academy of Achievement.

Maria Grace Schreiner from Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio was the winner of the 36th Annual English in Action National Shakespeare Competition and received a full scholarship to attend the Midsummer Conservatory Program at the British American Drama Academy (BADA) in Oxford, England.

Max Yillah from Academy at Palumbo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania placed second in the competition and received a scholarship to attend the American Shakespeare Center Theater Camp in Staunton, Virginia.

Kelly Bouslaiby from Henry J. Kaiser High School in Fontana, California placed third in the competition and received a cash prize of $500.

Joining the top winners in the final round of competition were Xiao-Ming Porter from Apex High School in Cary, North Carolina; Grace Steckler from Marin School of the Arts in San Francisco, California; Valentina Baez from Miami Arts Charter in Miami, Florida; Sonia Zartman from Oak Park and River Forest High School; Mariko Jurcsak from 'Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawai'i; Lydia Grosswendt from Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island; and Rohan Padmakumar from Lusher Charter School in New Orleans.

The competition brings together renowned actors and members of the theater community to judge the students' performances. This year, actor Geoffrey Owens joined Stephen Burdman, Founder and Artistic Director, New York Classical Theatre; Michael Sexton, Director of the Public Shakespeare Initiative at The Public Theater; Alexandra López, Associate Director of Education at Lincoln Center Theater; and Sid Ray, Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at Pace University, to judge the semifinal rounds. To judge the final round, actors Dakin Matthews, Peter Francis James and Dana Ivey joined Eunice Roberts, Dean at the British American Drama Academy; and Louis Scheeder, Director of the Classical Studio at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. James and Scheeder, the longest serving competition judges, have adjudicated with a long roster of former judges, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Waterston, Phylicia Rashad, Blythe Danner, Jesse L. Martin, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Thomas, Courtney B. Vance, Dianne Wiest and Helen Hayes.

Among the past competition participants who have gone on to national acclaim are actor and director Joe Sofranko, whose Hulu series Complete Works is based on the National Shakespeare Competition; actors Emily Bergl (Shameless, Desperate Housewives, Southland); Tyler Hilton (Walk the Line, One Tree Hill); Heather Lind (Demolition, Boardwalk Empire, Turn: Washington's Spies); Bronwyn Reed (Law and Order: SVU); as well as Broadway's Matt Harrington (Twelfth Night, Matilda, The Play that Goes Wrong) and Adam Wesley Brown (Once the Musical).

Citing its 36th season this year, the Honorable Bill De Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, proclaimed Monday, April 29, 2019 as "William Shakespeare Day" in New York City. Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill CBE KSt.J, Chairman of the English-Speaking Union, awarded the competitors certificates of achievement.

The English-Speaking Union provided the semi-finalists who traveled to New York from around the country with two days of educational and cultural activities, including an exclusive acting workshop by the Dean of BADA, Eunice Roberts, and a tour of New York City. Perhaps best of all for these teenagers was the opportunity to spend time with other students from across the country who share a love of the English language and, particularly, Shakespeare.

For additional information regarding the English in Action National Shakespeare Competition, please visit

The English-Speaking Union (ESU) is a non-profit educational charity that employs the English language to foster global understanding and good will through educational opportunities and cultural exchange programs. Founded in 1920 and headquartered in New York City, the ESU is a national organization with more than 55 branches nationwide and affiliated with a network of more than 50 ESUs around the world.

ESU educational programs focus on teacher enrichment, immigrant support, scholarships and youth speaking programs. Each year, our programs serve more than 60,000 teachers, students, volunteers and immigrants around the US.

ESU programs include:

Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center (ARNIC) improves the lives of recent immigrants through education and cultural programs and integration into American society.

English in Action pairs English language learners with trained volunteers to improve their English fluency through a one-on-one cultural exchange.

Luard Morse Scholarships sends students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to study for a semester at a British university.

Middle School Debate builds research, critical thinking and public speaking skills through debate and civil discourse.

National Shakespeare Competition develops high school students' analytical and communication skills through performing Shakespeare at the school, community and national levels.

TLab provides teachers and lifelong learners educational enrichment programs at Oxford, the University of Edinburgh and Shakespeare's Globe in London.

For additional information about The English-Speaking Union, please visit

The 2019 ESU National Shakespeare Competition Semifinalists.


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