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‘So amazing’: Oak Bay teen takes on Shakespeare at prestigious Carnegie Hall

St. Michaels University School student earns international opportunity with spoken word competition
Liam Pope-Lau, 14, outside legendary Carnegie Hall in New York where he took the stage to perform an act from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. (Photo by Naomi Pope)

Standing on a stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City – one of the most prestigious performing venues in the world – is a goal for many performers.

Oak Bay teen Liam Pope-Lau won’t soon forget his first step on stage in a venue where The Beatles and Yo-Yo Ma have performed, seeing the lights and speaking his first words.

“The world’s best and greatest have performed there,” 14-year-old Pope-Lau told the Oak Bay News on Nov. 16, hours after his early morning return from the east coast. “It was so amazing. I was so nervous. The second you step out onto the stage the lights are so beautiful, the acoustics are amazing, everything is like perfection.”

Pope-Lau earned the opportunity after competing in the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival in Saanich this year, earning a spot at provincials. He subsequently finished third, securing a place in the final showcase for speech and dramatic arts in the Magnum Opus International Speech and Drama Competition at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 11.

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During each competition, he performed act three, scene three of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

For those less of us less versed in the play, it’s the scene where Mark Antony denounces Brutus and Cassius and turns the crowd against the assassins, Pope-Lau explained.

Along the way, he continued to build his skills, incorporating adjudicator feedback.

“They’re experts in the field, they know very well about what tips and tricks I need to use, and what I don’t know so I can become a better performer and give the best performance I can,” Pope-Lau said.

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After the U.S. performance, the competitors had an opportunity to take in a drama workshop at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he learned more about Shakespeare and iambic pentameter.

“Now I can work a little more on pacing and timing so I can really nail down and add the emphasis that really draws in the crowd and gives them the experience of what’s going on,” he said.

Pope-Lau figures he did well and took away some history learned on site about Carnegie Hall, some experience, connections and meeting a variety of amazing competitors from around the globe.

“They’re all just such talented and good performers and I’m honoured to be able to perform alongside them,” he said.

At the Greater Victoria competition, one other person chose the same piece to perform.

Even that was interesting, seeing how another individual interpreted what Shakespeare wrote – both the differences and the similarities.

“It’s really insightful and really amazing to see how another person views it.”

Now in Grade 9 at St. Michaels University School, Pope-Lau student started studying speech arts at 8 with Speech Arts Victoria and teacher Christy Hill – who he enjoys learning from to this day. He doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t love literature and public speaking.

It’s something he continues, but also hones skills for other activities such as the spoken word club, debate club and model UN at school.

“It’s so exciting going up there and performing and you can really showcase what you can do,” he said. “There’s a whole range and variety of things that tie into being able to be a good public speaker and being able to really voice your ideas.”

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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