When you first meet Brad Kesling, he’s a shy, polite sophomore at Charlotte Christian School who would much rather talk about the joys of theater and music than about his own accomplishments.
But when you get him to recite a little Shakespeare – namely, the monologue that won him a trip to New York City in May to compete nationally – exeunt the quiet, reserved Brad Kesling and enter a gripping, animated version of the 16-year-old.
“It’s funny how quiet he can be and then when he comes onstage, really transforms,” said Candace Gowan, the school’s spokeswoman.
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Brad’s monologue from Act 3, Scene 2 of “As You Like It” was the top high school performance at February’s annual Shakespeare Competition at Wingate University. The piece is spoken by Touchstone, the court jester, who makes fun of a girl for falling in love with a guy who writes her cheesy poems.
His drama teacher at Charlotte Christian, Tiffany Reneé Bear, called his talent organic. “Brad understands and feels characters in a way all actors covet,” she said.
Bear said she was impressed when she first gave him the Touchstone monologue, and he returned the next day with staging ideas. “He went home and thought, ‘How can I make it work in the character’s body, not just the voice?’ ” she said.
This was Brad’s fourth year reciting at the contest. The first time, in seventh grade (he performed the “banished” monologue from “Romeo and Juliet”), he hated it. “It was so hard to understand. It’s basically a different language and takes time and work to do.”
Brad went again in eighth grade (he recited from “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”). The second time was better: “I got the hang of it, and then I loved it.”
He recited the same piece in ninth grade, along with a sonnet, a requisite part of the contest. He said he used to have problems with nerves. “This year was the first year I let go of winning and all that, because I just wanted to have fun.”
The first week of May, he’ll head to New York City for the National Shakespeare Competition, which, Brad said, is exciting, but also “kind of intimidating.” He heard there will be “cold reads” – reciting without practice – which perplexes him: “I can’t do cold reads for the life of me.” He plans to remedy that by poring over summaries of every Shakespeare work so he’s familiar with plot lines and characters.
Brad also loves playing the violin, which he’s done since age 5, particularly fiddle and Irish music. That will come in handy when he plays the fiddler in “Fiddler on the Roof” this April at Charlotte Christian, and he’s had the chance to play the violin live in a few other roles.
At Charlotte Christian, he’s the class president, on the honor roll and an Ultimate enthusiast. (Brad helped start the school’s club for the disc game.) Out of it all, does he have a favorite? The short answer is no. “I just love everything,” he says.
Bear expects great things from him in the next two years, and said he’s a natural leader. “He’s just a very modest, shy and humble person, but also still very outgoing and personable. If you can imagine that all in one person,” she said with a laugh, “that’s Brad.”