Character Contest

Character Contest

Whitman’s Chris Carothers finishes first in Washington Shakespearean Competition.

Chris Carothers appreciates how William Shakespeare gave him a little leeway.

“[Shakespeare] doesn’t just hold up a video camera to life and tell you, ‘This is just how it is,’” Carothers said. That’s what he loves about Shakespeare’s works — that the reader or viewer must go partway there, and will be rewarded with some of fiction’s deepest characters.

The same goes for an actor playing a Shakespearean role, as Carothers recently learned.

Carothers, now a Walt Whitman High School junior, won the English-Speaking Union’s Shakespeare Competition for the National Capital Region among 40 Washington-area competitors at the Lansburgh Shakespeare Theatere on March 6.

It was the second straight year Carothers participated in the competition. Coached by Whitman English teacher Orion Hyson, Carothers put some personal touches on a monologue from “Much Ado About Nothing,” which he juxtaposed with by reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 27. He received $500 and a leather National Geographic world atlas for placing first, and he will advance to the National Shakespeare Competition at the Lincoln Center in New York on Monday, April 24.

CAROTHERS REPRESENTED Whitman in the regional competition last year, and he considered it a learning experience. “I remembered that I had messed this up last year, and I knew I wasn’t going to do it again,” Carothers said.

Hoping to fare better this time, Carothers’ idea was to demonstrate a range of emotions by presenting two contrasting selections. the repressed love Benedick feels in his monologue from “Much Ado About Nothing,” followed by the man whose love is anything but repressed – it’s keeping him awake through the night – in Sonnet 27 (see above).

Carothers has played the role of Benedick on stage, once at the Kennedy Center.

“He really spoke to me as a character,” Carothers said. “He uses his wit to hide his emotion. … He really plays the jester and the fool … to hide who he really is.”

“He cannot accept that he likes a woman,” Carothers said. “He’s too amazed by his own wit.”

In short, Carothers said, Benedick “reveals by concealing.” He rants about Beatrice because he has feelings for her.

When Carothers performed the monologue, he tried to show both the front Benedick put on as well as the feelings the character conceals. He also acted on the advice he received from Christopher Henley, a board member of the Washington Shakespeare Company, who described the monologue as a series of images that arrive like one wave after another. Finally, Carothers remembered his audience. “I brought the audience into it … which you can’t usually do with a monologue,” he said.

AFTER ONE ROUND, judges at the Shakespeare contest narrowed the field down to 10 performers. “Once you got down to the top 10, you could tell they were very serious performances,” Carothers said. Finalists included Adam Pelta-Pauls of Winston Churchill High School, and Maureen Raj of Montgomery Blair High School.

Carothers thinks the competition is a good opportunity for drama aficionados in local schools. “It’s a great competition. You should try it at your school,” Carothers said. “This is Shakespeare — get into it!”

Carothers has been into it for several years. He performed in Whitman’s “Much Ado” in his freshman year, and last summer, he performed in the same play with a traveling troupe. “I think he knows that role quite well,” said Vera Dolezar, a music teacher who instructs Carothers on the viola. “He’s also got an incredible sense of humor.”

“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Carothers’ favorite Shakespeare plays, along with “Titus Andronicus,” the latter considered by many scholars as one of the Bard’s inferior works, but Carothers swears by it, and points out that the movie “Titus” is one of the better film adaptations of Shakespeare.

Carothers also performs male roles in all-girls private school productions, and he remains involved with Whitman’s drama department when the school performs non-musical dramas.

Not that he shuns music. For two years, he has played the viola under music teacher Dolezal, and prior to that he played the violin. He performs in Whitman’s symphonic band.

Carothers is eager for the national competition. He doesn’t hold out much hope of winning, but he’ll live the good life in the Big Apple – professional actors will speak to the contestants, they’ll eat well and take an evening boat cruise. The national champion wins enrollment in a summer Shakespeare camp at the Globe Theatre.