Olivia Mullen ducked into a Red Bank store to get out of the wind so she could recite a bit of the Bard for redbankgreen earlier this week.


As Olivia Mullen knows, the works of William Shakespeare are a fundamental component of any acting student’s growth as a performer. The Red Bank Catholic junior has shared passions for drama and music, and to her ear, Shakespeare embodies both.

“Shakespeare’s work is beautiful,” she told redbankgreen this week. “It comes to me almost like a song. I’m not nervous performing it.”

Mullen’s heartfelt appreciation of the Bard of Avon won her a spot in the 29th annual English-Speaking Union‘s National Shakespeare Competition held in New York last month.

Each year, high school teachers across the country select two students from their theater classes to audition. In Monmouth County, 15 schools were represented at the regional branch competition at Brookdale Community College, where Mullen took first place.

“I didn’t even expect to be chosen to compete,” said Mullen, 17, of Middletown. “And then I wound up going to New York.”

All the competitors were put up in the International Student Center for a one-night stay, during which they were treated to an acting workshop at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“That night, everyone just wanted to talk,” said Mullen. “We were sleeping nine to a room with bunk beds, and everyone was so interested because we were all from different places, but we had a 5 a.m. wake-up call. It was exhausting, but amazing.”

At the semi-finals, held at Lincoln Center on April 23, each student performed a monologue and a sonnet of their choosing. Mullen went with Sonnet 36.

“I picked a sonnet that wasn’t recommended because it’s a bit tricky and complex,” said Mullen. “But I’m glad I chose 36 because no one else did it, and there were a lot of repeats.”

While she may not have won the grand prize (a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Young Actors Summer School in London), Mullen said the entire experience had a significant impact on her future plans.

“I’m definitely going to pursue acting, and most schools want some background in Shakespeare,” she said. “It’s a hard skill to acquire, but it’s important to appreciate it.”

Mullen has been researching Carnegie Mellon’s musical theater program as well as the drama program at Juilliard, and said she’s open to either.

“I have a passion for both, so I’d be happy either way,” she said.