NAPLES — Zachary Krietemeyer, a junior at Naples High School, will find out soon whether he is “to be, or not to be” the winner of an all-expenses-paid trip to study acting in England.
That’s the first prize at the English-Speaking Union (ESU) National Shakespeare Competition April 21 to 23.
The 30th annual event, in New York City, offers 60 students a chance to compete for the trip to study acting in England, as well as a second acting scholarship and a third-place cash prize.
Although this year’s celebrities haven’t been announced, past national judges have included stage and screen stars: Andre Braugher, Blythe Danner, Helen Hayes, Sarah Jessica Parker and Gene Wilder. The competition provides high school teachers with a performance-based program of English language arts and helps students develop communication skills and an appreciation of the power of language and literature.
Krietemeyer, who won the local competition sponsored by the ESU’s Naples Branch against winners from four other schools, will perform the “Bottom’s Dream” monologue from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147.
“I think I’m a lot better at funny stuff, and ‘Bottom’s Dream’ has a lot of funny potential,” Krietemeyer explains of his choice.
That character also offers plenty of physical communication potential During a recent rehearsal. Krietemeyer used a lot of the stage, jumping up and down, contorting his body and using hand gestures to portray the melodramatic character whose head is turned into that of an ass as a prank by the fairy Puck.
Krietemeyer entered the local competition last year as well against eventual winner Carlos Figueroa, who made it to the national quarterfinals, the furthest a Collier student has gone.
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John McKerrow, a Realtor, professional actor, director and founder of Shakespeare in Paradise three years ago, provided one coaching session to Figueroa. Thinking more tutoring might make a difference, McKerrow — who also sits in the local ESU board — donated six coaching sessions to Krietemeyer.
He is even accompanying Krietemeyer, at his own expense, to New York City for the competition. Krietemeyer’s expenses are underwritten by the ESU, and his mother is joining him for the trip.
“He is wonderful,” McKerrow declares. “My hopes are high for a good showing in New York.”
During a coaching session at the Naples High auditorium, McKerrow encouraged Krietemeyer to think about Bottom’s pre-life before waking, got him to chase his “tail” — as the spellbound Bottom thinks he has — sooner, give his character more awe-struck punch lines and tighten up long pauses. He was told to move with intention, and take note of punctuation in the text, which indicates when and when not to pause.
Because the competitors will be handed unrehearsed sonnets to perform, McKerrow also gave Krietemeyer one from “MacBeth” to read after reviewing for only a minute.
The ESU wants students to make their own choices, McKerrow emphasizes, so his role is to provide guidance and tips, which included reading as much Shakespeare as possible to get used to words that could be difficult to pronounce or understand in the sonnets. After all, “Fain” and “prithee” aren’t exactly daily jargon in Southwest Florida.
The Bard, gratis
What: John McKerrow is providing free coaching sessions for area high school students who have learned a Shakespearean monologue as well as a free performance open to the public.
Coaching sessions: Tuesday, May 14, and Thursday, May 16, from 4 to 7 p.m.
Performance: 3 p.m. Saturday, May 18
Location: St Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, 7100 Airport-Pulling Road, North Naples
More information: 239-682-3637
Also as part of his preparation, Krietemeyer has already watched video of last year’s finals, available on YouTube.
The Shakespeare competition is close to McKerrow’s heart. Though he acted in a national tour of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and in commercials, daytime dramas and dinner theater, his favorite work is “MacBeth,” which he is now performing at high schools.
“If Shakespeare is done well, it’s very entertaining,” he says. “A lot of the language is archaic, but it’s still English.” McKerrow emphasizes Shakespeare’s importance in creating new words and producing an extensive body of work whose plot lines are still copied today.
Krietemeyer is excited about his first trip to New York City, where he might see a play, and to learn more as he pursues his goal of becoming a TV actor.
“I love competitions and I love acting,” he says, adding that he is not, at the moment, nervous about the Lincoln Center performance. “I don’t get stage fright.” He has appeared onstage in Naples High productions of “Fame” and “Football Romeo.”
And he is excited to perform Shakespeare.
“I like it better than regular plays because Shakespeare shows a range of emotion and his plays are suspenseful.”
The real suspense for Krietemeyer, however, is whether he will win in New York.