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Theater-loving Bishop’s School student wins national Shakespeare competition

Delilah Delgado, 18, is a senior at The Bishop's School in La Jolla.
Delilah Delgado, 18, a senior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, won a first-place award in the 2021 English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Delilah Delgado, 18, grew up attending the Bard’s plays at The Old Globe in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

Delilah Delgado fell in love with William Shakespeare’s plays while attending outdoor performances at The Old Globe theater in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Now, the senior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla will soon tread the boards of Shakespeare’s Globe in London as her prize for winning first place in a U.S. Shakespeare contest.

Delgado, 18, beat out high school students from 40 other regions in April to win the 2021 English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition. If pandemic conditions allow her to fulfill her prize-winning trip, she’ll spend three weeks in an English conservatory studying theatrical history and will perform with other international students at Shakespeare’s Globe, a re-creation of the Bard’s original theater, which closed in 1642. San Diego’s Old Globe also was built to replicate the original.

Delgado is thrilled and honored at her win but said it was just as exciting for her to compete with some of the best high school actors she’s ever seen.

“All of the other performers were so talented,” she said. “It was incredible to me that there are so many people who love Shakespeare and have such a gift for his words. I was happy to be among them.”

This was the third year in a row that Delgado has entered the ESU competition, which was presented virtually this year over Zoom because of the pandemic. Students compete by performing Shakespeare’s sonnets and monologues from his plays for teams of judges, first at the school level, then at the regional and national levels.

Delgado made it through four rounds of cuts to win the top prize. This year’s winning combination for Delgado was a speech by the love-smitten shepherdess Phoebe in “As You Like It” and a reading of Sonnet 62, a poem that celebrates the constancy of love.

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Samantha Howard, theater arts teacher at Bishop’s, said Delgado stood out in the competition with the authenticity of her performance.

“She has a very natural approach to character development that set her apart,” Howard said. “She also has a deep love of literature. The language became really something that was working with her, as opposed to something she had to battle against. Her pauses were beautifully handled and the crispness of the language was there without being overdone. It’s been delightful to watch her journey.”

Delgado, a San Diego native who lives with her family near San Diego State University, said her passion for Shakespeare has deep roots. As a young girl, she received from her mother a copy of William Lamb’s classic “Shakespeare for Children,” which had been handed down to her from Delgado’s grandmother. As a girl, she would read the stories of the plays in Lamb’s book. Then as she got older, Delgado got a copy of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare,” where she could read the plays themselves.

In 2013, she attended her first Shakespeare play at The Old Globe, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which remains her favorite of the Bard’s works.

“The costumes were out of this world,” she said. “I loved the characters and the ambience of the whole show and its ridiculousness.”

In her freshman year at Bishop’s, she was a costume assistant in the student production of “Romeo and Juliet” and the experience changed her trajectory at school.

“I got to see the show every night from the wings and it was incredible,” she said. “I fell in love with the language and performance and I really wanted to be a part of it.”

Delgado got involved in theater, dance and music on campus, and by her junior year, she landed the lead role of Viola in Bishop’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

“It was a lot of fun. It’s a comedy and I enjoyed that element of finding the jokes that Shakespeare folded into the text that were just waiting to be discovered,” Delgado said. “I love the rhythm of his words because they’re so musical. The iambic pentameter sounds so natural because it imitates a heartbeat. Playing with that rhythm and placing the stress on different words can change the whole meaning of a word or paragraph.”

Delgado will graduate from Bishop’s in June. In the fall, she’ll start classes at Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Mass., where she plans to study theater, art history, English and gender studies. She’s not sure how theater will figure into her future career, but she said exploring Shakespeare’s words will always be part of her life.

“I have spent a lot of time with the words of Shakespeare, so when I read a new piece of text, I have a pretty good idea of what it means,” she said. “But I do still enjoy delving deeper into it and looking up some of the words, figuring out their potential double meanings and embracing the beauty of the language.” ◆