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Published: Monday, 2/27/2006

Labor of love pays off for student of Shakespeare

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Notre Dame Academy's Sarah Hansen was judged the best of six competitors at The Rep. Notre Dame Academy's Sarah Hansen was judged the best of six competitors at The Rep.
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In this skirmish of wit, no pound of flesh was at stake - but the winner will travel to New York City to match her Shakespeare knowledge and delivery with national competition.

Sarah Hansen, a 15-year-old Notre Dame Academy sophomore, wowed a panel of four judges with her performance yesterday of a monologue by the character Helena in A Midsummer-Night's Dream and recitation of Sonnet 62.

For winning the 2006 Shakespeare Competition, sponsored by the Toledo branch of the English-Speaking Union and held yesterday at the Toledo Repertoire Theater, Miss Hansen received an all-expenses-paid trip to the national competition April 24-26 at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

"This is a really good contest. It's been a lot of fun," Miss Hansen said before learning she had won.

A member of Notre Dame's speech team, the sophomore acknowledged some jitters taking the stage before an audience of about 100, but the case of nerves "usually goes away when I start talking."

The six competitors yesterday all were champions of Shakespeare competitions at their respective Toledo-area schools. They took to the Rep's stage in succession before a judging panel made up of two college professors, a playwright/critic, and a retired English teacher.

Choosing a winner was "very tough - you want to give them all first place," Kate Argow, the retired teacher, said afterward.

"Just saying the words is one thing. Conveying the emotion - the appropriate emotion - is another," said Russell Bodi, a Shakespeare expert who is on the Owens Community College faculty.

As if to emphasize that point, the judges named Tom Kirkham, a junior at Central Catholic High School, the competition's runner-up even though he briefly stalled on one of his lines from Sonnet 116 after performing a flawless monologue from Othello. Mr. Bodi likened that award to the silver medal won by Olympic figure skater Sasha Cohen on Thursday despite two falls during her final routine.

"It was a tough competition," Mr. Kirkham said. "Sarah [Hansen] was really good. Hopefully, she does well in New York City."

The English-Speaking Union will provide transportation, lodging, and meals for the trip to the national competition, whose winner receives a scholarship to a four-week summer program in England.

Trish Sanders, Miss Hansen's English teacher, said the sponsorship of events like the Shakespeare Competition by a group outside the school system is very valuable.

"I love it when outside organizations take students and give them a goal to shoot for," Ms. Sanders said.

Madge Levinson, chairman of the English-Speaking Union's local competition committee, said the contest also serves to increase the public visibility of Shakespeare's classics.

She said her only disappointment with the competition is that since its local inception in 1997, there have been no entrants from Toledo Public Schools because of the requirement that competitors must have won an in-school competition.

That will change next year, she said, when the English-Speaking Union will conduct a preliminary round for "at-large" contestants, the winner of which will be invited to compete against the all-school winners.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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