500 seats surround a well-worn wooden platform. Three levels of balconies encompass the stage three-quarters of the way around creating an encapsulating performance area. Tony Award winners and Broadway regulars have performed on this stage, and now, so has the students of Huntley High School.
In loud and clear voices, the ensemble of eight introduced themselves to the crowd, “WE ARE HUNTLEY HIGH SCHOOL AND WE OWN THIS SPACE.”
On Monday, Dec. 11, Huntley High School sent eight students to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier to take part in the Chicago 2017 Shakespeare Slam, an educational program founded to get teens more involved in the work of William Shakespeare.
They competed against eight other schools from all over the Chicagoland area in the final bout of the competition. And although they didn’t place, they were able to make a lasting impression on their audience.
As seasoned actors in Shakespearean verse, their performance came off as second nature which was aided by the natural dynamic of the group.
“I feel like all of us definitely work really well together, we’re all super close and like to hang out with each other,” sophomore Riley Partin said. “It’s like a little, small family.”
Mundelein High School placed first with Warren Township and Niles North trailing as the two runner-ups.
Each school presented two five minute performances in the course of two rounds. The first was a scene cut from any Shakespeare show, and the second was the “dream round” where schools were given the task to reimagine A Midsummer Night’s Dream in any way they wanted to.
Huntley started off with a piece from one of director Christine Defrancesco’s favorite works of Shakespeare’s, Hamlet. They performed Act III, scene ii from the play, with senior Brandon Rios taking the lead as the titular character.
After a solid performance, they took a scoring of 8, 8.4, 8.5, 8.7, and a 9.5 out of 10 from the five judges.
The team from Huntley stole the show in the second round receiving all 10s from the judges with the exception of one 9 in the second round. The judge had nothing but positive praises for the group.
“I have no words…I will never be able to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream again without seeing it as a dark psychological thriller.”
The eight-person team completely repurposed the romantic comedy of fairies, and mischief into a dark story of two lovers, played by senior Dani Bahn and junior Frank Mete, torn apart by an evil “king of shadows,” played by senior Olemich Tugas.
The ambitious idea was fleshed out through the hard work of the students involved and resulted in a really chilling visual, and audial experience.
“I was really encouraged by the enthusiasm that the students had for it,” Defrancesco said. “I think it’s admirable that they are working at this level at this point in their lives.”
The group started working on the project back in the early fall when they attended a workshop, then later took first place at their regional on Dec. 2 and received near-perfect scores on both of their pieces with a total of 49.8 out of 50 points.
The night was a learning experience for everyone and a chance for schools in the Chicagoland area to celebrate and experience the work of Shakespeare together in a supportive environment.
“We had a really great opportunity to see a lot of other schools, see a lot of really great work, and I think that that is really what this was about,” Defrancesco said. “To see other really talented people out there and see what [my students] can learn from it.”