The show must go on for Shakespeare competition

Photo Courtesy of Spencer Morvillo
Spencer Morvillo will be competing at the national Shakespeare competition in April.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge High School’s Shakespeare competition looked different this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that has kept students locked into hybrid learning since the beginning of the school year. Though performers weren’t able to stand on stage at GRHS to compete, the show still went on, and freshman Spencer Morvillo was chosen as the regional winner of the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition. He’ll represent the Monmouth County branch at the national competition in April.

“In past years, we would do it live in the auditorium,” GRHS English teacher Smita Ganatra, one of the high school’s judges, said in a phone interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Friday, March 26. “But last year and this year, they had to be virtual. We were pleasantly surprised with how much students wanted to participate.”

Performers have to recite a Shakespearean monologue and a sonnet, without costumes or props. Morvillo and the other students who are competing in the national competition will send in their performances by Monday, April 5, and 10 finalists will be announced by Monday, April 19. The finals are scheduled for Monday, April 26.

Three winners will be named. The first-place performer will get to attend a summer conservatory program at the British American Drama Academy in London, the second-place performer will go to theater camp at the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia and the third-place winner will receive $1,000.

“It’s not what we’re used to,” Morvillo said in a phone interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Friday, March 26. “It’s tougher to know what the audience is thinking when they’re not there. But when you can have five takes, there’s an advantage.”

Morvillo wasn’t that familiar with Shakespeare before he entered the competition, but he is a performer. A seasoned cast member in plays and musicals, he said performing the Bard of Avon’s works is different from what he usually does.
“It’s a lot different,” Morvillo said. “In Shakespeare, every single word is important. In musical theater, it doesn’t have to be perfect. There’s more room to do different things.”

The Shakespeare competition has become a big deal at GRHS, and it’s exciting that a freshman won this year. According to Ganatra, a greater number of younger students than usual competed this year — freshman and sophomores were the majority. High schoolers were eager to participate in an activity during a year when their regular extracurricular activities have either been canceled or modified to fit social distancing guidelines.

“This has become part of the fabric of our school culture, so we plan around it,” Ganatra said. “What I find is that you get kids who didn’t perform before this. There are kids who are quiet in class and have never done this before, and it’s exciting to see them perform.”

Leading up to the finals, Ganatra will be helping Morvillo refine his performance. He’s working on making it more personal, which performing from home lends itself to.

“It’s more comfortable; it’s familiar to me,” Morvillo said. “It feels like home. I want to bring the intimacy of performing at home to whenever I can be on stage again.”