Every year a wide cross-section of high school students prepare for the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Shakespeare Competition. The unwieldy name of this contest belies the energy and excitement of the event, as well as the enthusiasm of the students who take part–these drama students could easily be mistaken for cheerleaders or football players, there’s so much excitement in the air. Director Alex Rotaru’s lively documentary follows the ups and downs of many of the participants of this annual tournament, which claims such luminaries as Kevin Spacey, Sally Field and Richard Dreyfus as alumni (in fact, Spacey and actress Mare Winningham show up to give some of these teens a pep talk). The tournament is team building at its finest, and the groups Rotaru follows are an appealing multicultural mix, from former gangbangers to a Catholic girls’ high school, who perform scenes from Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and other masterworks. Certainly the tension of who will win is a compelling part of this film, but there is a larger story here: some of these kids are living on the edge and their stories tell you that theater is truly saving them. As arts education is being assailed as a luxury in schools, Shakespeare High proves that it is truly a necessity, and the students who perform–win or lose–are proof positive of that. A Cinema Guild release.
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