Two Talented Hawai‘i High School Students Win Big at National Poetry Competitions

Ari Dalbert and Nicholas Amador continue Hawai‘i’s incredible string of victories in national poetry recital competitions. Meet the Two


Two Hawai‘i high school students, who’ve obviously taken Malvolio’s speech about greatness in Twelfth Night to heart, just won national honors in separate spoken poetry competitions. Ari Dalbert, a homeschooled 17-year-old who just moved from Wai‘anae to town, took the stage at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 2 and performed Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 solo, then a monologue from King Lear and a cold reading from The Merchant of Venice to win the 33rd annual English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition.


Dalbert, who caught the flu and was throwing up before the semifinal round, won a summer scholarship to London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He’ll be performing May 24 at Diamond Head Theatre for the closing event of the Folger Shakespeare Library traveling exhibition of First Folio! That Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, which is on display at Kapi‘olani Community College until May 25. 


SEE ALSO: See the Rare Collection of Shakespeare’s Plays at Kapi‘olani Community College


“I’m really excited about this,” says Dalbert. “Going to London, going to the heart of it all in terms of Shakespeare, to see a production at the Globe Theatre—I’m just blown away.”


Just two days later, in Washington, D.C., high school sophomore Nicholas Amador placed third in the National Poetry Out Loud Competition. The Punahou student took the stage with “Fishing on the Susquehanna” by Billy Collins, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman and “Thoughtless Cruelty” by Charles Lamb. Amador is the second Hawai‘i student to place third in the competition, along with Kellie Anae of Mid-Pacific Institute in 2006.




Putting an end to the common wisdom that poetry doesn’t pay well, the prize for Amador was $5,000 (the winner got $20,000—which, as with all winners, was shared with their schools). Check out performances at National Endowment of the Arts 2016 Poetry Out Loud. Amador’s teacher and coach is Lara Cowell.


Impressively, Hawai‘i has had three winners of the ESU Shakespeare competition in the past six years: last year’s winner, Mid-Pac’s Sarah Spalding, and Punahou’s Connor Lawhorn in 2011. More than 300,000 students have competed in the ESU event since 1983. The judges this year were led by noted actress Dana Ivey.


Dalbert’s performances of Shakespeare will be posted on the ESU site soon. His coach for the event was Betty Burdick, who recently directed him in the Diamond Head Theatre production of Camelot when he was asked to step in, on less than a day’s notice and without rehearsal, for the role of Mordred when the actor suffered an attack of appendicitis. She’d previously directed him in Harold and Maude.


“Art is what I enjoy. I don’t think I’d be really happy if I was doing anything else,” says Dalbert, who does tap, contemporary dance and ballet, and who recently started throwing clay pots on the wheel. “Hopefully this is going to be a springboard in a way. I met a lot of people in the theater in New York. I have no idea what the next idea is for me, but whatever it is I’m excited.”