Monday night, 26 Pittsburgh high school students — male and female, short and tall, black and white — competed in the sixth annual August Wilson Monologue Competition at Point Park University’s GWR Theatre.
Each performed a 2- to 5-minute monologue from the playwright’s Pittsburgh Cycle of 10 robust, intense and often funny plays depicting the African-American experience, with each play set in a different decade of the past century. The 26 came from six Pittsburgh-area high schools.
One of the attractions of this year’s competition was the number of young women who chose to deliver monologues spoken by male characters — an understandable result of there being 55 roles for men in the 10 plays, compared to just 22 for women.
Among the galaxy of Wilson’s memorable characters, those who appeared more than once (sometimes doing the same speech) were Levy, Vera, Ruby, Becker and King.
After long deliberation, the panel of five judges named the following winners: first, Lawrence White (Bynum, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”); second, ShaQjuan Tyler (King, “King Hedley II”); third, Shawndasia Collins (Vera, “Seven Guitars”). In addition to cash prizes and copies of “August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in his Life and Plays,” the three received scholarships from Point Park University of $16,000, $13,000 and $10,000, respectively, to study acting at its Conservatory of Performing Arts.
Next month, the three will travel to New York to join winners from New York, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles for the national finals of the competition, to be held May 5 at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre. Last year, the Pittsburgh winner, Thembisile (Tambi) Gxuluwe, went on to win the national prize.
This year’s judges were actor Teagle F. Bougere (“An Iliad” at Pittsburgh Public Theater), Lynn Hayes-Freeland (KDKA-TV reporter), Sala Udin (former City Councilman and August Wilson’s early friend and theater collaborator), Sheila McKenna (actor, director and head of theater at Point Park) and Christopher Rawson (Post-Gazette senior theater critic).
The effusive emcee was Kimberly Ellis, August Wilson’s niece, also known by her stage name of Dr. Goddess. The Pittsburgh competition is presented by the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project.