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Published: Monday, 2/26/2007

Notre Dame student reaches Shakespeare nationals

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Nadine Ajaka of Notre Dame Academy does a scene from 'Romeo and Juliet' to advance to the national competition. Nadine Ajaka of Notre Dame Academy does a scene from 'Romeo and Juliet' to advance to the national competition.
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That Nadine Ajaka loves New York, where in April she is to represent this region in the English-Speaking Union's national Shakespeare competition, is only fitting.

"There's always something going on there, and it's always busy. It seems like my kind of town," she said yesterday after her performance of a Shakespearian monologue and sonnet was judged the best in the contest held by the Toledo Branch of the English-Speaking Union.

Always busy is the way Nadine, a junior at Notre Dame Academy, lives her life.

She began working Tuesday to memorize and present Shakespeare's Sonnet 9 and a selection from Romeo and Juliet yesterday on stage at the Toledo Repertoire Theater. And that wasn't out of procrastination.

Earlier she had been learning her part in Faulkner's Bicycle for the Ohio High School Speech League's state tournament, where she will compete in the duo interpretation category with classmate Anna Balzer this weekend at Boardman High School near Youngstown.

She's had viola practices to play in the orchestra of last night's Ohio Music Education Association's District Honors Music Festival, which was at the Stranahan Theater only hours after the Shakespeare contest.

Then there was her job at Notre Dame: She cleaned classrooms after school Friday. And, of course, there were her classes. She's taking honors English and precalculus, advanced placement psychology and French, anatomy and physiology, theology, physical education, and she's on the school newspaper staff, where she had three articles due Tuesday.

But in the midst of all that, for the past few days it's been Shakespeare that "was just kind of always running through my head," said Nadine, who lives in Sylvania Township.

The competition yesterday for a trip to New York in the national contest was small in number, but notable in quality.

The Toledo Branch of the English-Speaking Union invited 150 schools from about a dozen counties to send a representative to the contest.

Seven schools did so.

Toledo School for the Arts sent Jake Spencer, Maumee Valley Country Day School sent Anna Shapiro, Whitmer High School sent Aly Geisler, Maumee High School sent Reina Dickey, Salem High School in Canton, Mich., sent Hannah Fox, and Central Catholic High School sent Tom Kirkham, who finished second for the second year in a row.

National contest organizers require that branches sending a representative to New York have at least six competitors in their local contest. Some years, the Toledo branch has had that bare minimum, much to the chagrin of contest coordinator Madge Levinson, who'd love to see more young people try out.

In New York, Nadine is likely to be one of 50 to 60 students competing for a full-tuition scholarship to the British American Drama Academy's Midsummer Conservatory Program in Oxford, England.

The English-Speaking Union, which describes itself as an educational organization formed to promote scholarship and the advancement of knowledge through the effective use of English in an expanding global community, has sponsored the contest since 1983.

Over the years, 200,000 students are thought to have competed in the Shakespeare contests on local, regional, and national levels.

Notre Dame Academy has had its share of those. Nadine became the seventh from the academy to win the regional contest in the last 10 years.

"We have just amazing girls," her teacher, Trish Sanders, said.

But Mrs. Levinson also credits Ms. Sanders and all the other teachers who took on the challenge of advising a student for the contest. And she knows, she said, why there weren't more competitors. "Because it's work," she said. "It's so much work."

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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