Much ado about learning in the North Hills School District

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Think Shakespeare, and what words come to mind?

Difficult — confusing — irrelevant — fun?

Many students in the North Hills School District would agree with those assessments of The Bard of Avon as they prepare for the Pittsburgh Public Theater's Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest on March 20 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

Students in all grade levels worked with drama coaches from the Pittsburgh Public Theater at North Hills High School on staging, interaction and emoting.

Heather Walter and Tyler Schmitt, North Hills Junior High School eighth-graders from Ross, will participate in the contest for the fourth and fifth times, respectively.

“It was really fun,” said Tyler, 14. “We made it to the finals twice.”

This year, they'll present Act 2, Scene 1 from “A Midsummer Night's Dream.”

“I'm basically chasing him and getting him to love me,” said Heather, 13.

Tyler's and Heather's parents, and Doris Stupka, a district librarian who got them interested in Shakespeare, help them rehearse twice weekly.

“After you get into it, it's easier,” Tyler said. “It's harder to pick up at first. Then, it makes sense.”

Elijah Gass, 18, of Ross and a senior at North Hills Senior High School, is entering the competition for the first time. He attended the PPT session to rehearse the “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech from “Julius Caesar” on the auditorium stage under the gaze of Ron Siebert, an actor with 40 years of experience in local, Broadway and regional theater.

“How are you swaying the crowd?” he asked Gass. “What do you want the crowd to do?”

“ ‘Julius Caesar' was the Shakespeare play I read when I was learning to appreciate his works,” he said, adding that Mark Anthony's monologue is especially appealing.

“I liked how he would play on words. I like to make puns.”

Eighth-graders Joe Kelly and Alexandra Gray, and seventh-grader Meredith Madill, all 13 and from Ross, worked on their scene from “Twelfth Night.”

“Basically, it's about two drunk guys hitting on a girl,” said Joe, who, with Alexandra, will compete for the first time. Meredith has performed in the scene competition twice before.

This year, she'll test herself in the monologue portion.

Heather, who hopes to be in the monologue competition next year, said she relishes the competition.

“Once you get on stage, all the nerves go away,” she said.

“Then, you think, ‘This is what I worked for.' It's a good experience.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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