Preslee Krout wanted to dig deep into the work of William Shakespeare.
Krout, a junior at Cherokee Trail High School, worked to move past the playwright's most well-known titles for her entry in this year's Shakespeare competition organized by the nonprofit English-Speaking Union. Instead, she wanted to present material to the judges that remains obscure for most casual readers of the Bard of Avon's considerable oeuvre.
"King John," one of Shakespeare's lesser-known history plays written in the 1590s, was the perfect candidate. In preparing for this year's Shakespeare contest, which draws high school students from across the metro area, Krout settled on a monologue from the play delivered by Lady Constance, a character coming to grips with the death of her son and the erosion of her political fortunes.
"I wanted to find monologues that aren't seen as often, that weren't as well known," said Krout, who's competed in the Shakespeare contest for the third year in a row. "In the monologue, Constance is distraught and upset. Her son has died in battle, and she's going through a good deal of grief."
Although Krout is quick to point out that she's never dealt with the kind of sadness that stems from the loss of a child, she worked hard to uncover the motivation and inspiration behind Constance's words. The effort paid off. Krout won first place at the English-Speaking Union's Denver competition held on Jan. 29. Her performance of the "King John" monologue, along with her recitation of one of William Shakespeare's sonnets, won over the judges. Krout will travel to New York City in May to compete for the Union's national title, a prize that includes a five-day workshop at the Globe Theatre in London.
"I don't think I've processed everything yet," Krout admitted. "But winning the national competition would mean a lot. I've always had a fascination with Europe, and Shakespeare is one of my favorite subjects."
"I admire his language, how poetic it is ... It's not written in another language, but sometimes it feels like it is. His work is just so pretty to read and speak. (Shakespeare's) plays are still taught everywhere in the world."
-- Preslee Krout, Cherokee Trail junior and winner of the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition Denver Branch for 2017.
Krout's success represents years' worth of hard work and study. She entered her first competition as a freshman at CT, earning second place for her delivery of a monologue from "Two Gentlemen of Verona." Last year, she won third place for her performance as Ophelia from "Hamlet." All of her efforts came with the constant support of drama teacher Cynthia Poinsett, who took part in Shakespeare teaching workshops at the rebuilt Globe Theater in London in 2014. Krout's dedication to literature from more than 400 years ago springs from a deep-seated love of drama and, more specifically, from a profound fascination with the poetry and imagery of William Shakespeare's words.
"I admire his language, how poetic it is," Krout said. "It's not written in another language, but sometimes it feels like it is. His work is just so pretty to read and speak," she added, pointing to its longevity and universal appeal. "His plays are still taught everywhere in the world."
Krout still has more than two months to refine her monologue before traveling to New York City, but she's not going to let herself be idle or complacent. She'll be hard at work rehearsing the "King John" monologue, as well as preparing for the curve ball of the national contest. Competitors will have to cold read a Shakespearean monologue selected at random, and Krout will spend the coming weeks exhaustively studying the Bard's whole catalogue.
"There are about 75 monologues they're likely to give us," she said. "I'm going through each one line by line. It's fun – I get to learn more about Shakespeare."