Alex Rotaru’s fun, shamelessly heart-wrenching documentary Shakespeare High follows a group of high school thespians who put their all into preparing for the annual Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Shakespeare Festival (DTASC). For the competition, each school presents a short take on three different plays (Othello, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in this case), which can be either original interpretations or straight-from-the-text renditions. The film, which opens in limited release 9 March, underscores its pitch for increased funding for public school arts education by showcasing the talent of those competitors from unprivileged backgrounds, holding their own against those from the right side of the tracks. One former gang member from a charter school in a poor, mostly Hispanic area takes the reins as director. As he puts it, “Just because we’re not rich and white” doesn’t mean they can’t win. The film follows their tests and their triumphs, and pushes too hard its message about the importance of the arts in schools. But Shakespeare High is undeniably moving when it focuses on the young actors’ dedication and joy, as they work through their scenes and begin to sort out their lives in the process.
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