Woodrow junior first to represent his school at the National Shakespeare Competition

Matthew George, a 17-year-old Woodrow Wilson High School junior with a passion for acting, knows the feeling of being in front of an audience. But he doesn’t know how he will feel facing the audience at New York City’s Lincoln Center when he competes at the National Shakespeare Competition.

George is the first student from Woodrow to qualify for the National Shakespeare Competition.

“The idea of being in New York City performing blows my mind. The setting will almost be unreal,” George says.

Competing at the national level will allow George to flex his acting muscles on a bigger scale. No matter what the result, he says he’ll enjoy the process.

“The experience of going there means more than actually winning anything. The journey means more than the destination,” George says.

While preparing for the local finals where students are selected for the national competition, George worked closely with Woodrow’s theater director John Beaird on which pieces to present. He settled on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91 and a monologue from the play “Measure for Measure.”

“Matthew was genuinely outstanding,” Beaird says. “He created a beautiful character. He has a strong intellectual grasp and a strong emotional understanding.”

And intellectual and emotional insight, Beaird believes, are qualities that could secure a strong showing for George at the national contest.

George developed an interest in theater when he was in seventh grade and has been involved with plays and musicals in the local scene ever since.

“The community in Woodrow fosters this musical, acting, performing art circuit. I really like it,” George says.

He acting skills have also been cultivated through his mentorship with Beaird, who trains his young actors at Woodrow to perform challenging roles.

“We like to do something a little bit deeper, more problematic,” Beaird says. “I don’t like to pick plays that are necessarily done for high schoolers.”

This was evident in the first acting role Beaird assigned to George. During his freshman year, George played the role of a 75-year-old man affected by malaria in “Dancing at Lughnasa” by Brian Friel. Beaird coached George, but gave him the freedom to interpret the role.

“He doesn’t force feed you a way to act. He will talk about a method of acting, but there’s not a strict method,” George says. “To play a 75-year-old man, you’ve just got to think about it.”

The result proved to Beaird that he could entrust George with anything he might throw at him.

“He did an amazing job at creating that character,” Beaird says. “He has the natural gift that a lot of kids have, but he also has a work ethic. Because he works so hard, it makes his natural gift much better.”

At the Lincoln stage, George will perform a cold reading of a Shakespeare monologue, with no chance to prepare. Whatever happens, George says he’ll continue acting with fervor and enthusiasm. For him, it’s a way of life.

“Acting to me is a way to know yourself that they can’t teach you,” George says.

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