Santa Monica High School senior Rosalind Jewett poses with English teacher Chon Lee after the 2020 English-Speaking Union’s Los Angeles Shakespeare Competition last month in Pasadena. Courtesy photo.

Forty-nine students from across the nation were supposed to head to New York next week after securing a spot as finalists in the National Shakespeare Competition. But with the restrictions on travel, local Santa Monica High School senior Rosalind Jewett is forced to compete from home.

After winning first place in the 2020 English-Speaking Union’s Los Angeles Shakespeare Competition last month in Pasadena, Jewett moved onto the National Shakespeare Competition.

“Normally, we would get to see the students compete live at Lincoln Center in NYC, but due to recent events they have gone online with taped recordings for the judges,” Samohi English teacher Chon Lee said as he detailed how approximately 20,000 students compete in the various ESU competitions held throughout the country every year.

In order to make it to the finals of the prestigious contest, students must win their high school’s competition before heading on to the semifinal round, which is always held at Marlborough School in Los Angeles, according to Lee. Then, the top performers move on to the regional finals that are traditionally held in Pasadena at the Shakespeare Club.

Rosalind is the second Samohi student to have made it all the way to New York, or she was supposed to be until COVID-19 hit.

“Everything was all set,” Lee said, mentioning he and Catherine Baxter, a former Dean Of Students at Santa Monica High School for nearly 4 decades, intended to go see Jewett compete. “This year it was supposed to be on Monday, April 27 but they sent us an email saying the live competition is canceled…”

Lee said he has had his students participate in the competition for many years because it shows them that Shakespeare and other literary works aren’t only meant to be read or studied on paper, “but they really can be performed and enacted.”

“It’s always fun to watch,” Lee added, and Jewett has brought a very authentic voice this year.

“You can tell that she really enjoyed herself and really, really loved it,” he said. “She really thrives when she’s left to her own devices to recite and perform because she always senses the audience and whoever’s in the auditorium or the venue and then she adapts her piece to the live space, which is something you can’t always do from the home.”

Instead of canceling the event, contest officials opted to hold it online and asked students to post prepared readings from home. Also, for the first time ever, according to Lee, the National Shakespeare Competition has announced a ‘People’s Choice Award’ that will be given to the participant who receives the most votes from the public.

“Right now, the judges are looking over all of the videos and they will choose the top 10 finalists,” Lee said. “They’re going to eventually pick a date when they’re going to do the ‘live’ rounds as they call it because they’ll be streamed.”

Jewett chose to perform sonnet 38 and a Helena monologue from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for her video.

“We practiced a lot on the cold read,” which would have been part of the final routine in New York, Lee said, but now his young pupil has to hope for the best and believe her video is enough to convince judges or the public that she’s number one.

“I mean it’s a big deal (because) it’s not just our city or our school’s competition,” Jewett said. “Every year only one student from L.A. can go and I’m glad it was her this year.

To view all of the submissions for the Shakespeare sonnet and monologue competition, visit Voting will close on Thursday, April 23.

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