DPS Fest: Shakespeare's Top 10 teenagers

Video: Our look back at the 2017 Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival, which returns for a 34th year on Friday (April 27). Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.



When 5,000 teens take over downtown in Shakespearean garb Friday, some might even be playing their own ages  

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

The first 33 years of the Denver Public Schools’ annual Shakespeare Festival have produced thousands of teenagers playing hundreds of Macbeths, Rosalinds and dusty old Lears. But you might be surprised how many age-appropriate roles there are out there for teens. Most prominently, no doubt, the uncomfortably young 14-year-old Juliet, whose Romeo was five years her senior.

(But hey, different times. Life expectancy in England in 1600 was 35, largely because of high infant and child mortality.)

The DPS Shakespeare Festival, the largest student fest in the country, returns Friday to the Denver Performing Arts Complex, despite a planned walkout by teachers throughout the country in support of increased salaries and classroom resources.

“The Show Must Go On!” the district says on the festival page of its website. And the show begins with a grand parade from Skyline Park beginning at 10 a.m. and continues throughout the day with short performances of sonnets and scenes, as well as demonstrations of dance, music and songs from Shakespeare’s time.

In honor of the 5,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade who will participate in Friday’s festival, we present this list of Shakespeare’s Top 10 Teens: 

NUMBER 1DPS Shakespeare JulietJuliet is a title character in Romeo and Juliet. The daughter of Capulet, she falls in love with Romeo, son of her father’s mortal enemy with, ahem, tragic results. Juliet is thrust into adulthood quickly. In four days, she is courted by Count Paris; falls in love with Romeo (who kills her cousin Tybalt); has her first sexual experience; is nearly disowned by her parents, and spends two days drugged to unconsciousness. And then kills herself. So you know … that’s a lot.

“O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.”

NUMBER 2

Joan la Pucelle: Better known to history as Joan of Arc, she leads the Dauphin’s forces against Talbot and the English in Henry VI, Part 1. An unkind Shakespeare presents her as an adulteress who fakes pregnancy in order to avoid being burnt at the stake.

May never glorious sun reflex his beams upon the country where you make abode, but darkness and the gloomy shade of death environ you, till mischief and despair drive you to break your necks or hang yourselves!

NUMBER 3

Midummer lovers DCPA Theatre Company Lysander + Hermia and Demetrius + Helena, the four bickering, pining, potioned young lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Hermia loves Lysander. Lysander loves Hermia but, under a spell, fake-loves Helena. Helena is initially rejected by Demetrius, but later gets her man. (Got it?)

Helena: O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent to set against me for your merriment. If you were civil and knew courtesy, you would not do me thus much injury.

(Pictured above and right: Leigh Miller, Drew Cortese, Caitlin Wise and Allison Pistorius in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2011 production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Photo by Terry Shapiro.)

Bard keeps truckin’ with ‘Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’

NUMBER 4

Imogen is the daughter of king Cymbeline. Her husband, Posthumus, wrongly believes she has been unfaithful and orders her killed. Her vain stepbrother Cloten “loves” Imogen, and thus, resolves to rape her. She is later administered a poison by the queen — but it’s a fake.

Look here, love: This diamond was my mother’s. Take it, heart. But keep it till you woo another wife, when Imogen is dead.

NUMBER 5 HENRY_V-jmk-15-8044Hal: King Henry V starts out as just a lad, eldest son of Bolingbroke (also known as King Henry IV). Before he becomes his own title character in Henry V, we see his wild-seed years play out at the foot father figure Falstaff. He of course eventually ascends the throne, rejects Falstaff and leads the English to victory at Agincourt.


Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon benches after noon …

(Pictured above and right: A grown-up Hal in Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Henry V’ in 2014. Photo by Jennifer Koskinen.)

NUMBER 6

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester is the brave but evil third son of Richard, Duke of York. He is a fairly minor character in Henry VI, Part 2, becomes more prominent in Henry VI, Part 3, and grows up to be the hunchbacked, the titular antagonist in Richard III.

France should have torn and rent my very heart before I would have yielded to this league.

NUMBER 7

King Lear DCTC 2007Edgar and Edmund are the sons (ish) of Gloucester in King Lear. Edgar is the worthy, legitimate son of Gloucester who disguises himself as “Poor Tom.” Edmund is the bastard son, and one of the most calculating of Shakespeare villains.

Edgar: Who gives anything to poor Tom? whom the foul fiend hath led through fire and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, o’er bog and quagmire.

(Pictured above and right: Rodney Hicks as Edmund and Markus Potter as Edgar in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2007 production of King Lear.’ Photo by Terry Shapiro.)

NUMBER 8

Hero and Claudio: Hero falls in love with Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing. She is wronged by Don John and Borachio, and is abandoned at the altar, and left for dead, by Claudio. No one’s really sure how old Claudio is, but, as Shmoop.com says: “Seriously, he acts like he’s about 12.” 

Hero: O, God defend me! how am I beset! What kind of catechizing call you this?
Claudio: To make you answer truly to your name.

2017 Festival: Students put spirit of youth into everything

NUMBER 9

Miranda and Ferdinand are hormonal kids in The Tempest. Miranda is the daughter of Prospero, and she falls for Ferdinand. She’s 14. Yeah, try not to think about that too much. We know here age, Shmoop.com says, “because her dad says she wasn’t yet 3 years old when they landed on the island and 12 years have passed since then.”

Miranda: How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in it!

NUMBER 10

DPS Shakespeare Lavinia Hannah Duggan Buntport Lavinia is the daughter of Titus in Titus Andronicus. She is raped by Chiron and Demetrius, her tongue is cut out and her hands cut off. In 2003, Denver’s clever Buntport Theater presented a comic Titus Andronicus in which Lavinia (Hannah Duggan) responded to her tongue-trimming by mumble-singing “Oops!” by Britney Spears (name presumably shortened from Shakespeare) with bloody shirt cuffs and blood spilling out from of her mouth. Legen … dary.

No grace? no womanhood? Ah, beastly creature! The blot and enemy to our general name! Confusion fall—

(Pictured above right: Hannah Duggan in Buntport Theater’s 2003 production of ‘Titus Andronicus.’)

Bonus: Boy, Oh, Boy!
OK, there are a lot of young male characters Shakespeare didn’t bother to officially name. In Henry V, “Boy” goes to war with Pistol, Bardolph and Nym. In Richard III, “Boy” is the young son of the murdered Clarence (described in one speech as little Ned Plantagenet). In Coriolanus, “Boy” is young Martius, son of Caius Martius Coriolanus. In Henry IV, Part 2, “Boy” is a follower of Sir John Falstaff, and in The Merry Wives of Windsor, that same boy is called Robin. In Henry VI, Part 1, “The Master Gunner’s Boy” kills Salisbury. “Boy” sings in The Two Noble Kinsmen, Measure for Measure and Antony and Cleopatra. “Boy” is also a servant in Troilus and Cressida and Much Ado About Nothing. (Full disclosure: Probably not all the same boy.) Oddly — or perhaps not, given the times, Shakespeare only bothered to name one character “Girl”—  the young daughter of the murdered Clarence in Richard III.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Special thanks: Research assistance from Jessica Austgen and Geoffrey Kent. Some material collected from Shmoop.com, Wikipedia’s complete list of Shakespeare characters and OpenSource Shakespeare.

Photo gallery: The 2017 DPS Shakespeare Festival:

2017 DPS Shakespeare FestivalOur photos from the 2017 DPS Shakespeare Festival. Last year, the student selected to play Queen Elizabeth at the Opening Ceremonies was Denver School of the Arts Senior Amelia Corrada. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

34th Annual Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival

  • 10 a.m.: Opening Ceremonies will be held at 15th and Arapahoe streets
  • 10:15 a.m.: All students will join a short parade down the 16th Street Mall to the Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • 10:45 a.m. through 4:15 p.m.: Short performances of sonnets and scenes from the works of Shakespeare, as well as demonstrations of dance, music and songs from Shakespeare’s time. Note: DCPA Education’s “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot” ensemble will perform at 1 p.m. just outside the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex.
  • Ages: Kindergarten through high school
  • This year’s theme play: Macbeth
  • More information on auditioning, workshops and resources for educators: shakespeare.dpsk12.org

The 2018 stage map:

Stage-Map-2018

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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