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Danny Stock

GDS 9th Grader Ava Blum Named Shakespeare Competition National Champion

Ava Blum ’23 just won the English-Speaking Union’s (ESU) 2020 National Shakespeare Competition and has been crowned not only the first DC Branch winner since 1992 but also the youngest winner in the 37 year history of the competition! As National Champion, Ava won a scholarship to attend the 2021 Midsummer Conservatory Program at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, U.K.

On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, the ESU was forced by COVID-19 to pivot to a digital platform for final rounds of the competition. A panel of judges, including renowned playwrights, Tony-nominated actors, teachers, and a past winner, reviewed  home-recorded submissions. Ava’s preliminary performances Julia’s monologue from The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Sonnet 116 vaulted her into final round of ten, which was contested LIVE via Zoom. You can view her final performance in the recording from the finals at 15:39. Finally, we invite youth enjoy Ava's thrill at being named the victor at the 52-minute mark. The ESU noted that the competition garnered participation from “more than 20,000 high school students...at the school, regional, and national levels.”

In reflecting upon her win, Ava said, "Little did I know when I found acting as a passion that Shakespeare would have one of the largest influences on how I perform. Over the course of my journey to learn to perform Shakespeare (which I've only just begun), I now see it's not about performing for an audience and acting like your role, it's about truly becoming them.”

When chairman of the English-Speaking Union Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill announced Ava’s victory, he said, “Behind every successful student is a great teacher.” Ava responded, “This could not be truer. I'd like to shout out all the theater teachers and directors over the course of my time at GDS who helped me find my voice and love of acting in the first place. I attribute much of this win to (High School acting teacher) Jim Mahady, who helped shape me as an actress during this amazing journey.”

Jim helped Ava select the monologue and sonnect choices that would allow her to “showcase parts of the characters I could do best,” she said. Jim’s coaching earned him the ESU Teacher Recognition Award, instituted this year “as thanks to teachers who have adapted to current challenges.”

Asked about her preparation for this competition, Ava returned to the unique influence Shakespeare has had on her growth as an actor. “What I love the most about Shakespeare is how he was able to make his characters so complex and layered within a short phrase,” she said. “They are never one-dimensional, and it is so fascinating to be able to unpack and discover the type of people (or creatures!) they are with each line. It is amazing to see how they develop and transform within a single monologue. That is what makes performing Shakespeare so much fun and one of the most challenging art forms. Finding the emotions I shared with [the character] helped me to become them."

Although this is the first time GDS has ever had a National Champion, we have had other students go on to the finals in New York, including Jordan Friend ’12 who reached the final round of ten. Congratulations to Jim for his nearly 20 years coaching GDS student actors to success in the Shakespeare recitation competition. What better way to cap off his retirement year at GDS then supporting and celebrating Ava’s triumph as National Champion. Congratulations, Ava!

 

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