Teen Actors Keep Playwright August Wilson’s Legacy Alive

Eight years after his death, the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition provides high school students from around the country an opportunity to carry on the African-American playwright’s legacy. That legacy includes Pulitzer Prizes for “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” two installments of Wilson’s 10-play series set in his hometown of Pittsburgh that examined 20th-century black life through the personal and political struggles of everyday people.

The monologue competition originated in Atlanta with director Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre. It draws participants from seven cities including Seattle, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Winners from this year’s regionals will compete in a final performance on May 6. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Broadway theater named after Wilson.* Colorlines.com caught up with two of the finalists, 17-year-old Zhane Ligon and 16-year-old Reginald Wilson Jr., at Manhattan’s Repertory High School for Theater Arts. In the video below, Wilson’s words from “Jitney” help transform them from soft-spoken teenagers into powerful storytellers.

—Jamilah King

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The National August Wilson Monologue Competition presented in collaboration between True Colors Theatre Company and Jujamcyn Theaters.

Founded in 2007, the Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition aims to expose a new generation of creative minds to the life's work and artistic legacy of this seminal American playwright. Program participants in cities across the country encounter Wilson's ten-play cycle and receive coaching from teaching artists as they prepare their monologues for local, city-wide and national competitions.

A panel of celebrity judges will evaluate the competitors and select a winner. The evening will also include performances by well-known Wilsonian veterans and special musical guests. Among those who have previously lent their support as performers, judges and guests are Phylicia Rashad, Russell Hornsby, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Scott Rudin, Guy Davis, Lynda Gravatt, Keith Randolph Smith, Tamara Tunie, Katori Hall, Maurice Hines, Chris Chalk, LaTanya Richardson, Heather Alicia Simms, Pauletta Washington, and Mykelti Williamson, among others. In the past, students have had the opportunity to spend time with other prominent Broadway performers over the course of the weekend, including Denzel Washington and Daniel Radcliffe.

This year's competition will afford students from these cities around the country the opportunity to attend a Broadway show, work closely with two of Wilson's closest collaborators: director Kenny Leon and dramaturg Todd Kreidler, and explore popular Manhattan attractions before making their Broadway stage debuts. The three finalists from each regional city will compete, and the top contestants will be chosen to perform on the August Wilson Stage on Monday evening, May 6th.

The top three contestants from the national competition are awarded college scholarship opportunities in addition to monetary awards and the gift of TCG's Century Cycle collection. The first place winner will receive a $1000 cash prize, the runner-up a $500 cash prize and the honorable mention a $250 cash prize. Each of the winners will also become eligible for college scholarship opportunities.

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