"This is where I was when I wrote it, and I have to move on now to something else."
-- August Wilson
August Wilson Monologue Competition Boston Finalists
This past Saturday, student representatives from nine Boston Public Schools took to the Boston University Theatre stage for the second annual August Wilson Monologue Competition. There were monologue performances from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, and The Piano Lesson. After it was all said and done, the nine competitors stood center stage nervously anticipating the announcement of the 3 winners that will travel to New York to compete in the national finals on the August Wilson stage on Broadway! Tyrel Joseph, from Codman Academy won the competition with his fabulous portrayal of Boy Willie, from The Piano Lesson. Coming in, as the First Runner Up was Halima Ibrahim, from Snowden International School at Copley and the Second Runner Up was Reanna Johnson, from Dorchester Academy, with their portrayals of Levee, from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. All three will be moving on to the national finals in New York City. During their New York visit, they will also attend theatre performances, talkbacks, and workshops with theatre professionals.
Created by Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company (some may remember Kenny Leon as the Huntington Theatre Company director of Fences and Stick Fly, which recently opened on Broadway), the August Wilson Monologue Competition involves high school students in city schools from all around the US: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Boston. This year marks the second year the Huntington’s Education Department has facilitated the in-class collaboration and the final competition in Boston Public Schools. This year’s schools were Another Course to College, Boston Adult Technical Academy, Brighton High School, Codman Academy Charter Public School, Dorchester Academy, Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, English High School, Fenway High School, and Snowden International School at Copley.
Although I normally serve as the Huntington’s Marketing Professional Intern, I recently participated as a teaching artist for this competition in Brighton High School. This experience has been one of the highlights of my post-undergraduate career. I visited Brighton High School’s 10th Grade Honors English Class eight times to introduce the students to August Wilson and his plays, focusing on his play, The Piano Lesson. I provided script analysis, character development and acting coaching for 20 students and their selected monologues. Many of my students were taken by Berniece’s strong persona, Boy Willie’s antics, and Wining Boy’s comical disposition. We held an in-school competition to determine the student who would represent Brighton High School at the Boston Finals. Let me say that my students made it very challenging to pick a finalist! Chevaun Richards was the chosen winner. He was among some of the best of the best of Boston Public School’s talent. As an audience favorite, he definitely gave the contestants and the judges a run for their money.
Regardless of the final decision, the August Wilson Monologue Competition gave Chevaun, his classmates and all the students who participated in all nine Boston Public Schools a rare opportunity to delve into the world of theatre and the works of one of the most influential American contemporary playwrights. Being asked to memorize, act and speak in front of an audience is unheard of for some of these students. The experience alone is one that will stick with them for many years to come.