Acting award a reward for hours of rehearsal

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Winning performance . . . Columba College pupil Sophie Baron (centre) celebrates being awarded best actor at the recent regional Shakespeare Festival for her portrayal of Othello, with friend and fellow actor Evie Ballantyne – who played Desdemona – and teacher Ina Bercinskas. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

During her school days, Sophie Baron (15) is focused on the sciences, but in her own time, Shakespeare is king.

The Columba College year 11 pupil’s skill and dedication was rewarded with the title of best actor at the recent Otago regional event of the Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival.

Sophie won the award for her portrayal of the title role in Columba College’s 15-minute, compressed version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello

The piece was adapted by Columba College English and drama teacher Ina Bercinskas, and also featured close friend Evie Ballantyne (15) in the role of Desdemona.

As drama is not available as a Year 11 subject at Columba, the group of keen young actors put in their own time during nights and weekends for a six-week period to prepare the piece.

“We put a lot of practice into the death scene, in particular, which ended our piece,” Sophie said.

Both Sophie and Evie have been involved in drama from a young age, and Sophie first started reading Shakespeare in year 7.

Both were involved in a short school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in year 9, and have taken part in the Shakespeare festival for the past three years.

“Funnily enough, we first became friends when we played Hermia and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and we have been doing Shakespeare ever since,” Evie said.

Being named best actor at the regional Shakespeare festival earned Sophie the chance to attend the national festival in Wellington at Queen’s Birthday weekend as an observer.

She was also awarded direct entry to the Shakespeare National Youth Company, a group of up to 48 young actors who will come together at the end of the year in Dunedin for intensive performance workshops.

From that group, up to 24 young people will be selected to travel to London for a two-week programme at Shakespeare’s Globe next year.

The two Queen’s High School groups who attended the national festival in Wellington at Queen’s Birthday weekend had a successful experience.

The year 12 group, which presented an innovative interpretation of parting scenes from Romeo & Juliet, won the prestigious Wellington Shakespeare Society Cup for the best understanding of the play.

The year 13 group’s performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor – Time’s Up, Sir John!ran over the 15-minute limit due to difficulties of staging, and so they were ineligible for an award, drama teacher Terry MacTavish said.

However, the judges’ feedback was very positive, particularly for the topicality of the piece in its feminist approach to the topic of sexual harassment, she said.