EASTHAM — When to the sessions of sweet silent thought she summons up remembrance of things past, Molly Shafnacker may well be thinking about the last two summers that she spent dressing up with her friends to attend “Shakespeare on Demand” under the tent at Wellfleet’s Mayo Beach.
“She and her friends are total groupies” of the Knighthorse Theatre Company, which runs the summer program, said Maura Coughlin, Shafnacker’s mother, who lives in Eastham.
The Knighthorse duo, Tyrus and Amy McLaughlin Lemerande, challenge their audiences to name any scene or speech from 38 different Shakespeare plays; the Lemerandes then perform it on demand.
“It’s awesome,” Shafnacker said.
Not that Shakespeare is her only interest. Shafnacker sews creatures from socks and other used clothing. Last year, she taught a one-day class at the Wellfleet Public Library on writing fantasy. And she is waiting to hear from colleges right now with an eye towards both the arts and the natural sciences.
The 18-year-old Nauset Regional High School senior will be going to the English-Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition at New York City’s Lincoln Center on April 27. The Union exists to foster global understanding through cultural exchange programs and support for immigrants, according to its website. In the Shakespeare competition, those who qualify for the nationals emerge from among 20,000 participants across the country.
To get to this point, Shafnacker first won a competition at Nauset High in early January, and then won two subsequent rounds, held in Newton, to become the state champion.
To win, she recited monologues and sonnets that she had prepared, and then performed a “cold reading,” requiring her to absorb a monologue for 15 minutes and then read it.
Asked if she understands Shakespeare, Shafnacker said, “I don’t think anyone understands all of Shakespeare.” She said the important thing is to get enough of it that you can laugh about it. “He leaves things open-ended. You never get it the first time through,” she added.
Memorization is important to the process, according to Shafnacker. The work of memorizing a scene or monologue allows for a deeper comprehension of Shakespeare’s many plays on words as well as of characters’ feelings, she said.
Shafnacker does act. She has enjoyed theater since she was very young, participating in Rudelle Falkenburg’s summer program in Truro. But her true love lies more in reading. After each phase of the competition, Shafnacker said she was relieved it was over.
But then she’d win and have to perform again.
A Shakespeare class she’s taking this year at Nauset, taught by Judy Hamer, has no doubt contributed to Shafnacker’s success. It requires reading, interpreting, and writing but also memorizing and performing.
Shafnacker likes the comedies best — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and Much Ado About Nothing in particular.
For her winning monologue, she played Benedick from Much Ado.
He’s a soldier back from the war, she said, and wants to be “a buff soldier-man” with no interest in marriage. His friends decide it would be hilarious if they could get him to fall in love with the sharp-tongued Beatrice, since the two always spar verbally.
Once his friends convince him that Beatrice is in love with him, he falls head over heels for her. Shafnacker nails his about-face with “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I would live ’til I were married.”