Teenagers Take to Shakespeare
In Southern California, a mixed demographic of high school drama student teams from several schools scattered across the areas diverse neighborhoods, prepare to compete in the 90th Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Shakespeare Festival. Over the years since its inception, the annual Shakespeare competition has, over the years, become just as popular as sports events, and members of the schools' drama groups are campus stars.
The entertaining documentary by filmmaker Alex Rotaru follows several students who are members of competing four drama teams as the prepare for the big day of the competition. Rotaru uses footage of auditions, rehearsals and performances, stitched together with on camera interviews with the drama teachers, students and several popular Hollywood actors -- Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham and Val Kilmer, among others -- who participated in the Shakespeare competition while they were attending high school in Southern California. At one point in the movie the stars return to their alma mater, Chattsworth High, to give words of advice to the fledgling actors.
Many of the students who sign on for the drama groups come from impoverished communities that are beset by gang wars and other criminal activities, and their participation in a Shakespeare competition seems unlikely. Yet, they are clearly quite committed to their groups and the Shakespeare project. The competition represents a way for them to broaden their horizons and prospects for a better education and life. They compete with each other for acceptance into the group, but once they're in, they support each other solidly and form very strong bonds.
The competition between schools is fierce, and each drama teach has her or his own style. For the most part, the kids are challenged to come up with contemporary interpretations of the Shakespearean comedies, tragedies and history plays. This may not sit well with Shakespearean traditionalists, but the kids are on a full learning curve that teaches them not only verse, but social skills, as well.
Parents pitch in to make costumes, communities hold auctions and other such events to raise supplemental funds -- but the concept and choreography come from the kids with their teacher's guidance.
All of the kids featured in the film have gripping -- and often horrendous -- personal stories. The Emesibe twins, Melvin and Galvin, were sleeping in their house when their father killed their mother and grandmother. Despite that, they're really good, hard working kids, who play football and had already received football scholarships to college. But the kids in the drama group needed a big African-American kid to play Othello. Hello Emesibe. And, the other kids are just as interesting.
The hardest thing about this movie is realizing that some of the kids you come to like so much, and their teams who've worked so hard, are going to lose the competition. That's the a bit of a reality check. Some seniors who won't have the chance to compete again burst into tears when they realize their efforts are over, and they must move on. But they do so with so much more than they had going in to their Shakespeare experience.
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- Title: Shakespeare High
- Director: Alex Rotaru
- Theatrical Release Date: March 9, 2012 (limited)
- Running Time: 81 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Country: USA
- Location: Southern California, Los Angeles and environs
- Language: English and Shakespearean Engish
- Production Company: Ifavor Entertainment
- Distribution Company: Trigger Street Productions
- Official Website