*On a quiet and rainy Monday evening in New York City’s theatre district, the sixth annual August Wilson Monologue Competition National Finals was held at the August Wilson Theatre, where 21 finalists had an opportunity to perform on a Broadway stage. The national competition was presented and produced by Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company and Jujamcyn Theaters.
In 2005, we lost one of the greatest American theatre icons of the 20th/21 st century, two-time Pulitzer Prize playwright August Wilson. In his honor and only fourteen days after Wilson’s death, on October 16, 2005, the Virginia Theatre was renamed the August Wilson Theatre. The August Wilson Theatre is currently the home of the long-running Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys.”
In 2006, the inaugural August Wilson Monologue Competition was launched. The national competition is opened to students who are sophomores, juniors and seniors in high schools in cities across the country. This year’s finalists hailed from Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, which was represented for the first time in the competition. At their respective high schools, the students prepare, study and rehearse various monologues from August Wilson’s ten award-winning plays. The students competed regionally with other high schools in their cities, and the winners from the competition advanced and participated in the semifinals, which took place at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York City.
The talented 21 finalists performed monologues from Wilson’s plays including “Gem of the Ocean,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Seven Guitars,” “Fences,” “Two Trains Running,” “Jitney,” “King Hedley II,” and “Radio Golf.” The audience was filled with love and admiration for a man who gave so much to the theatre community and the world, especially his devoted family, Wilson’s wife and costume designer, Constanza Romero, and daughter, Azula Carmen Wilson, who were on hand for this year’s competition. “I am very proud,” says Romero. His daughter Azula echoes, “It inspires me to be the best person that my father knew I could be.”
Several alumni of Wilson’s plays attended the competition, including Ebony Jo-Ann, John Earl Jelks, Erika Rose, as well as a community of theatre enthusiasts and people who worked on Wilson’s various Broadway productions. Ebony Jo-Ann, who starred in Broadway’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and who was a longtime friend of Wilson exclaimed, “As a proud Wilsonian soldier, I look forward to the monologue competition each year because it is a family reunion to the tenth power. August Wilson’s America’s playwright will live on through our youth.” Debbie McIntrye, a theatre-goer for over thirty years and one of New York’s top group sales agents, who has seen and worked with all ten of August Wilson’s plays, attended the competition for the first time. “I love that Kenny Leon is keeping August Wilson legacy alive and thriving,” says McIntrye. “The young talent across the country is amazing and awesome.”
The 2012 national finalists include, Drew Boening (Seattle); Reeana Johnson (Boston); Janyce Caraballo (Chicago); Tyrel Joseph (Boston); Michael Curry (Pittsburgh); Brittney Lopez (New York); Tyler Edwards (Los Angeles); Moise Morancy (New York); Stacey Ejim (Seattle); Cherish Morgan (Pittsburgh); Xavier Evans (Seattle); Jonathan Nieves (Chicago); Jonathan Fantroy (Atlanta); Siddiq Saunderson (New York); Brandon Haynes (Atlanta); Christopher Smith (Los Angeles); Christian Helem (Chicago); Saidah Wade (Atlanta); Jasmine Hogan (Los Angeles); Shakara Wright (Pittsburgh); and Hallima Ibrahim (Boston).
The finalists spent the weekend in New York with a full schedule of activities, which included theatre dates, meeting theatre talent and sight seeing. The top 15 finalists were selected from the 21 semifinals and went on to compete in the nationals at the August Wilson Theatre. From the nationals, three winners were selected—Tyler Edwards of Los Angeles placed third, Christian Helem of Chicago won second place and Saidah Wade of Atlanta was named first place winner.
The competition was hosted by Kenny Leon with celebrity judges Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park), David Gallo (Tony Award winner for set designer), Jasmine Guy (actress and director), Lynn Nottage (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright), James A. Williams (actor and playwright) and technical judge Stori Ayers. The finalists were judged on preparedness, understanding of the text, emotional connection to the material, vocal delivery and commitment to the character. The evening also included a special reading with this year’s Tony nominee Condola Rashad, daughter of Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad, and Brandon Dirden of “Clybourne Park.” There was also an acoustic performance with blues artist and actor Guy Davis, son of the late Ossie Davis.
The event was opened to the public. The winners received cash scholarship prizes; all 21 participants received a book set with the complete works of August Wilson’s plays. After the competition, a reception was held for the finalists in the lobby of the theatre.
The national competition was presented by Delta Airlines. Support for the August Wilson Monologue Competition was provided by Bank of America, The Imlay Foundation, Massey Charitable Trust, Publix Super Markets Charities and Kathleen E. Rios. Major funding was provided by City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, Fulton County Board of Commissioners under the guidance of the Fulton County Arts Council and the Georgia Council for the Arts.
For more information on the August Wilson Monologue Competition, please visit: www.truecolorstheatre.org
Gwendolyn Quinn is veteran media specialist with a career spanning 20 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and the publisher and editorial director of Global Communicator, an e-publication for public relations, marketing, journalists and communications professionals. She is a contributor to Souls Revealed (Souls of My Sisters/Kensington) and featured in Handle Your Entertainment Business (Grand Central/Warner Publishing). She is a contributor to the forthcoming book, Souls of My Faithful Sisters (Souls of My Sisters/Kensington). Contact her at [email protected].