News And Events

Branch ESU Shakespeare Competition

Blackfriars Playhouse
February 5, 2022

Dear Members,

On a crisp, blue-skyed morning, the following members crossed Afton Divide into the Shenandoah Valley on route the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton.

They were: Fay Cunningham (Education Committee member), Bob Smith (who served as Third Party judge of our three professional Shakespearean actor judges), Skye O'Donnell (Branch Photographer, her pcs here, and Website Site Committee Chair), David and Anita Bonds, John Crawford, and yours truly. I can speak for the group when I say we were greatly rewarded, encouraged, and thrilled to see six skilled, and dedicated young thespians, three from Charlottesville High School, three from Covenant school.

To my left, were the three Charlottesville High School contestants. To my right, the Covenant School contestants. They were all so well prepared. Fay and I had seen them just 3 three weeks ago in their own school competitions. As good as the top three at each school were, they all brought their A-games to the Playhouse. Thank God I was not one of the judges. They were good, excited, passionate, and thrilled to be performing on such an elegant stage in front of their coaches, parents, judges, and ESU members.

In my opening remarks introducing the actors and their coaches and families to the briefest of histories of the ESU, and bringing to their attention that this iconic ESU competition is undertaken across the country, and in fact, around the world, seemed to resonate. I noted that today's winner would compete by zoom with over fifty other young American actors, from here to Hawaii. The icing on the cake for them, thanks to the largesse of John and Yvonne Watterson, that the first second and third place winners would receive $200.00, $150.00, and $50 respectively, and that Blackfriars itself would be giving them certificates for cash savings at their Drama camps this summer, added yet more drama to the competition.

The judges deliberated, made their choices, and then, with the audience present, critiqued the actors with the intent of edifying them as a group on areas that they variously could work on to further hone their acting skills. And with a drum roll by all present, the first, second, and third places were announced. At left, you see them flanking John. Left to right they are winner, Roxie Beebe-Center (CHS), 3rd place Grace Wolf (Covenant), and 2nd Place, Violet Craghead-Way. Fay at right.

So, here's Roxie, up close and personal, the Charlottesville Branche's 2022 winner. We wish her well in the next round, and hope she sails on to the final in person round of 10 finalists who will come from across the country to New York City to meet her fellow actors, tour a bit of the City, and compete at Lincoln Center for the coveted opportunity of a life time, to be sent by National this summer to study for a couple of weeks at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. She wouldn't be the first Charlottesville contestant to win that honor. We had a Tandem school National winner a dozen years ago.

I want to thank Education Committee Chair, Debbie Pruett, for organizing the competitions and coordinating with the Playhouse. She also prepared program two pages of which appear below.

And as for you my dear members who have not had this experience, including a fun lunch together afterwards, I rest my case.  See you at the Playhouse next year. The play's the thing!

Cheers all. Phil


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