For the past 11 Mays, the talented young finalists of the national August Wilson Monologue Competition have gathered from around the country to share their performances onstage at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre. This year, with theatres closed due to the public health crisis, the competition hosted its first-ever virtual finals.
Over the course of the May 2–3 weekend, amid speeches and stories from professional artists and AWMC alumni, this year's regional finalists performed August Wilson's powerful words from their homes, shared via computer screen.
"From the dark moments of 2005 after our hero's death, when Todd Kreidler and myself breathed life into what would become the August Wilson Monologue Competition, this was our proudest moment," say co-founder and Tony-winning director Kenny Leon. "Actually seeing this class of young Wilsonian Soldiers in a Zoom reality was special and inspiring. Looking closely into their eyes through the computer screen I could see the strength, courage and hope that the words from the master's 10 plays have offered them."
Below, 14 of the 2020 finalists share their insights, hopes, and dreams.
Name: Tyla Uzo Age: 16
High school: Ramon C. Cortines of Visual and Performing Arts
Monologue I performed: Memphis; Two Trains Running
I chose this piece because: This character really awakens the Black audience like never before, it gives them a brutal point of view from someone who definitely thinks outside of the box.
Something I admire about August Wilson: Is that he always dives deep into his characters. Whether or not the audience has ever seen them, they are always three-dimensional in some way, shape, or form.
Theatre gives me hope because... It allows me to express myself in a healthy way. Pouring out my heart on stage is something that is very therapeutic to me.
After high school my dream is to... Study theatre and receive my M.F.A at the college of my dreams.
Name: Julius Shanks ll Age: 17
High school: The Alabama School of Fine Arts
Monologue I performed: Toledo; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
I chose this piece because: I found it to be different from what any other student would pick. A lot of times we run away from the comedy in a dramatic piece, but that is what drew me to it. I loved the way Toledo told a story with this monologue while still having fun.
Something I admire about August Wilson: How free he was to be himself. He made art for his people, allowing African American kids to see someone like themselves on stage, talking just like them.
Theatre gives me hope because... Without it the world would be deprived of a natural way of experiencing a story being told.
After high school my dream is to... Write, direct, and produce films that give encouragement and inspire the youth in a positive light.
Name: Cassidy Huff Age: 18
High School: Mount Rainier High School
Monologue I performed: Vera; Seven Guitars
I chose this piece because: I thought it would be challenging and because it was my third year in the competition, I really wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
Something I admire about August Wilson: He was able to touch and connect with so many people by writing plays and creating characters that everyone can relate to in some capacity.
Theatre gives me hope because... It makes me feel like I can do anything. It makes me feel like I can actually make a difference in this world, and connect with people just like August Wilson did.
After high school my dream is to... Be on Broadway and to show others with disabilities that a career in the theatre is possible no matter what you look like. I want to be what I didn't have growing up, I want others to look at me performing and think to themselves, "Well if she can do it, I can too!"
Name: Bejunior Fallon Age: 16
High school: The Governor’s Academy
Monologue I performed: Caesar Wilks; Gem of the Ocean
I chose this piece because: It was the best representation of the complexity of August Wilson’s writing and of the meticulous effort he put into crafting each character in his plays. Caesar Wilks was a middle-class African-American man during the Jim Crow era in America. His middle class status caused him to abandon and talk down on lower-class African Americans; he is what many would call an Uncle Tom. Mr. Wilson created Caesar to remind African Americans we are stronger as one, and to survive in America we must uplift our ENTIRE race.
Something I admire about August Wilson is: He created sophisticated characters that look like ME!
Theatre gives me hope because… It brings stories to life.
After high school my dream is to… Continue writing and acting.
Name: Shy’Peria Brown Age: 18
High school: Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy
Monologue I performed: Berniece; Piano Lesson
I chose this piece because: In this scene Berniece is a mouthpiece for all of the misunderstood, mistreated, misguided, and ever-loving women of the world. No doubt Mr. Wilson wrote multiple roles for women who have encountered a struggle, but Berniece’s spoke to me in an indescribable way. She is the heart of the show. In this monologue, Berniece is finally “serving it to the man.” She is grace and she is power; she is a WOMAN, and this piece solidifies without a doubt that she possesses strength without the help of a man.
Something I admire about August Wilson: How personal all of his work was to him. Through competing in the August Wilson Monologue Competition, and doing outside research, I've learned a tremendous amount about this talented man. For example, I was amazed to learn that Mr.Wilson's work held a lot of musical influence, specifically the blues. His works are timely but timeless, and they showcase the cultural response of Black America to the world in a way that’s raw and representative of every era.
Theatre gives me hope because... Its power has the ability to change lives. Through all of my years and experience in the arts, the one thing I cherish most is the unification and growth theatre provides. Theatre is arguably one of the most influential assets in the world. Theatre is personal. Theatre is political. Theatre is accepting. Theatre is what you make it. The beautiful thing about it is, it’s ever changing and always evolving.
After high school my dream is to... Attend a college best suited for me. I plan to pursue my BFA degree at Pace University in New York City. My ultimate goal is to gain as much training and experience needed to properly further my acting career professionally—both in film and on stage.
Name: Mysheree Key Age: 15
High School: Capa High School
Monologue I performed: Bynum Walker; Joe Turners Come and Gone
Something I admire about August Wilson: His passion for creating his work. No matter what he was going through, he made sure his art inspired many all over the world, and not just African American minds, but anyone who believed art was their soul.
Theatre gives me hope because... It gives voice to those who don’t have one. We take anything not being talked about in the world and turn it into art. Our job is to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and once we do that, we believe anything is possible.
After high school my dream is to... Inspire. I am great at many things and am not sure where my talents will take me, but I know that wherever I go, I will be leaving my mark there!
Name: Ayana Askew Age: 16
High school: Booker T. Washington High School
Monologue I performed: Black Mary; Gem of the Ocean
I chose this piece because: This monologue stood out to me. It was closer to my age range, making it easier to perform and connect to the words. I felt that it was one of the best I have ever performed.
Something I admire about August Wilson: Is his ability to write truthfully about African American culture in the 1900s despite his race. I love his ability to capture the essence of the fun, joy, and sadness of African American families in such a realistic manner. His work allows the reader to dive deeper into what it was like, and it is very relatable.
Theatre gives me hope because... It’s stunning to see the power and determination and motivation of the characters to do things that we as an audience never imagined was possible. Theatre motivates and brings people together. In essence, it's part of what makes us human.
After high school my dream is to... Become a criminal justice lawyer for those who have fallen victim to the unjust criminal system, and be part of a positive helping-hand initiative aiding others and their families.
Name: Kyle Branch Age: 17
High school: Los Angeles County High School for the Arts
Monologue I performed: Levee; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
I chose this piece because: It was the first August Wilson text I had been introduced to. In 2016, I was a freshman and there was a night where all of the students went out to see a production. I don’t remember much else from that night, other than being blown away by the play, and more specifically by the character Leevee. He is a black man who feverishly wants to do what he loves, yet is plagued by racial limitations and struggles to reinstate his identity within a group of people he has to interact with. Ever since I first saw the monologue done, I knew one day I’d try and tackle it.
Something I admire about August Wilson is: His drive and writing style. First, he was a high school drop-out at 15 and not only did he continue learning, he excelled with his knowledge of literature, stories, and most importantly, his people.
Theatre gives me hope because... It inspires empathy. Through empathy we find a desire in our hearts to change.
After high school my dream is to... Sharpen my artistic toolkit (acting, music, writing, directing, fashion, etc.), and then create as much art as I possibly can for however long I am able to.
Name: Dalencia Brown Age: I am 16 years old.
High School: I am currently a rising senior at DRW College Prep
The Monologue I performed: King; King Hedley II
I chose this piece because: I felt connected to his level of self acceptance and understanding of who he is. He never wavers in his confidence, he knows who he is and he doesn't let anyone change his mind—I aspire to be like that. I also tend to feel like I'm on a different plane of thought than other people at times, and i feel connected to King in that way, as he details his experiences with a person who couldn't think like him.
Theatre gives me hope because... It is a constant reminder that we are capable of more than what we see every day. It gives me hope that we can rely on our imagination and creativity to help us conceive of a better life, or a different perspective than our own. Theatre is the invisible thread connecting us all in ways we didn't even know, among all races, genders, religions, ethnicities and more. Theatre gives me hope that later on in life, the way i make a living can also be the way I express myself, learn, and have fun.
After high school my dream is to... Use the things I've learned through my experiences to guide me into a path of prosperity. My goal is not to be the richest in materials or money, but to be the richest in love, fulfillment, and passion in the things that I create. I think mostly my dream is to create something i can be proud of and the future generations can be proud of. I don't even aspire to have fame, I just want to tell my story because I know and believe that it could help someone.
Name: Taylor Jackson Age: 17
High school: The Alabama School of Fine Arts
Monologue I performed: Berniece; The Piano Lesson
I chose this piece because: I admired how strong Berniece was, which reminded me of the women in my family. I also admired how strongly she fought for her family legacy even though it seemed like everyone was against her.
Something I admire about August Wilson is: His bravery. He believed black people and our stories were worthy enough to share and he honored that by creating art. I will forever appreciate that.
Theatre gives me hope because... It pushes me to emotional and physical levels that I never knew I was capable of. I also love being able to inspire and touch every heart in the audience, and to witness the connection between such different individuals.
After high school my dream is to... Attend Juilliard in New York City. After I graduate from Juilliard I plan to not only be in the theatre industry but to also transfer over to film.
Name: Harmony Grace Age: 18
High School: The Chicago High School for the Arts
Monologue: Tonya; King Hedley ll
I chose this piece because: The story was so interesting and also this monologue is very relevant to today.
Something I admire about August Wilson: How real and genuine he is with his writing and how everything he writes is relatable and also relevant.
Theatre gives me hope because... It shows me that I'm not on my journey alone.
After high school my dream is to... Study musical theatre and receive my B.F.A.!
Name: Gaia Micciancio Age: 15
High school: La Jolla High School
Monologue I performed: Rose; Fences
I chose this piece because: It was a character and moment I have encountered in my life.
Something I admire about August Wilson: His ability to capture real life and put it on paper, and subsequently transform it onto the stage.
Theatre gives me hope because... It allows expression and encourages differences in opinion and identity.
After high school my dream is to... Help create a new form of representation and acceptance in new generations, where diversity and unique stories are celebrated.
Name: Anthony J. Costello Age: 17
High school: Weaver Academy
Monologue I performed: Mame Wilks; Radio Golf
I chose this piece because: I had seen the piece done many times by my classmates and other female participants within the competition in Greensboro, and I was always attracted to the way that the selfless character of Mame Wilks delivers her feelings regarding her husband’s actions and how respectful yet undaunted she is as a wife and partner. I was often told that this monologue in particular was “overdone,” so I asked my theatre teacher: “How many boys have you seen do it?”
Something I admire about August Wilson: His passion and devotion to every work of art that he created. The amount of time and contemplation that he put into making sure that the words that he wrote and characters that he produced were entirely true to the world that we live in is absolutely spectacular to me.
Theatre gives me hope because... I believe that it can teach us human beings about ourselves and about the problems that we may face or have faced, and hopefully present solutions to those issues and help us to better the people that we are.
After high school my dream is to... Further my work as an actor by studying either acting or musical theatre at a conservatory and later performing in equity productions in New York or London, or really anywhere that I can. Just to do what I love for the rest of my life is a dream.
Name: Lea Chicosky Age: 18
High school: Penn-Griffin School for the Arts
Monologue I performed: Aunt Ester; Gem of the Ocean
I chose this piece because: In this monologue Aunt Ester illustrates for Mr. Citizen the importance of finding one’s own purpose in life and not allowing material possession to guide you and your actions. I feel as though that is such an important piece of advice to realize as you continue to grow in life and so I chose this monologue to help, not only myself, but others realize and accept that lesson as well!
Something I admire about August Wilson: His ability to create detailed and inspiring works that allow the audience to be completely immersed in the show, and get them to feel connected to the characters and the trials they may face.
Theatre gives me hope because…. I am able to inspire so many different people of many unique backgrounds through the roles I play. By performing I am opening up others to a different world that they may not ever get to see in real life, and I am able to spread a message to them that may benefit them in life.
After high school my dream is to… Attend a four-year university for a BFA in Acting degree and then start performing in films and Broadway!