Robinson youth combine Shakespeare, handwashing amid coronavirus crisis

Author: Erin Blasko

Out, damned virus! Out, I say!

Members of the Robinson Shakespeare Company, the award-winning youth Shakespeare company at the University of Notre Dame, are using the bard to both practice and spread the word about handwashing and its importance during the covid-19 crisis.

Health experts have promoted hand washing as an effective way to prevent the spread of covid-19, with 20 seconds the recommended length of time to kill the virus.

To pass that 20 seconds, some have recommended singing “Happy Birthday” (twice) or other tunes. An app will even suggest celebrities for people to sing happy birthday to.

But members of the Robinson Shakespeare Company, part of the Robinson Community Learning Center at Notre Dame, have adopted a different method: Reciting monologues from the bard’s many famous plays and sonnets.

The members, ranging in age from 8 to 18, record videos of themselves washing their hands while reciting monologues of at least 20 seconds in length, then invite others to do the same with the hashtag #ShakespeareChallenge.

The monologues range from the pitying (Ophelia in “Hamlet”) to the self-pitying (Romeo in “Romeo in Juliet”), and from the love stricken (the narrator in “Sonnet 85”) to the lovelorn (Adriana in “The Comedy of Errors”).

As of Wednesday (March 24) the videos had amassed more than 1,000 views, likes and shares on the Robinson Shakespeare Company’s Instagram and Facebook feeds. Members continue to make new videos and have even invited staff of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, the University’s summer Shakespeare program, to join in the fun.

Christy Burgess, Shakespeare outreach director at the RCLC, came up with the idea after travel and other restrictions related to covid-19 halted rehearsals for the company’s annual spring production.

Monica Caponigro and Joshua Crudup, longtime members of the Robinson Shakespeare Company, helped.

“Theater is community, and this is a wonderful way to keep the community together,” said Burgess. “Plus, it provides a wonderful (public service announcement) about washing your hands.”

“If you’re in the Robinson Shakespeare Company you have a love of Shakespeare, and this is one way of expressing that love,” Said Caponigro, a junior at John Adams High School in South Bend and winner of the 2020 Indiana state Shakespeare monologue competition, which took place in February, before covid-19 shut down most travel and public events in the U.S.

For her video, Caponigro recited “the bastard monologue” from “King Lear,” in which Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, resolves to kill his older brother Edgar, the earl’s legitimate son, and take his lands.

It’s the same monologue that she recited for the state competition, and that she plans to recite for the national competition, which will take place remotely this year, with recorded monologues, because of covid-19.

Two bright spots: Caponigro knows how to record a monologue now, and the new format will allow for two winners this year — one selected by a panel of judges and another by online voters ­— and thus two chances for her to win.

Established in 2008, the Robinson Shakespeare Company offers high-quality theater instruction to South Bend-area youth. Members compete in monologue competition in the fall and perform full plays in the spring and summer. The company engages with local schools, as well, hosting weekly after-school programs and in-class workshops.

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Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127,

Originally published by Erin Blasko at on March 25, 2020.