High school students take on the words of playwright August Wilson
In a tiny theater at Southern Methodist University, an old master got together with some new friends.
By Bruce Tomaso
In a tiny theater at Southern Methodist University, an old master got together with some new friends. The master, playwright August Wilson, died in 2005. His new friends, high school actors now, were barely out of preschool at the time of Wilson’s death.
The event that brought them together recently was the August Wilson Monologue Competition, a national educational program that celebrates Wilson’s art while, in the words of the competition’s organizers, “inspiring high school students to find and express themselves through theater.”
Dallas was one of 12 U.S. cities to host a regional stage of the monologue competition. The top performers from each region will gather in New York City on May 7 for the national finals at the August Wilson Theatre on West 52nd Street. The top three national finishers win cash prizes, college scholarships and a hardbound edition of The Century Cycle, Wilson’s collection of 10 plays about black life in America in the 20th century.
This year's SMU competition drew more than 110 high school students from throughout the Dallas area, as well as Tyler, Austin and Houston. (Flu knocked out one San Antonio school that planned to take part.) Each student performed a two- to three-minute monologue of his or her choosing from one of Wilson's plays.
Twenty-three finalists competed in late February. Seven judges, all professionals from the Dallas theater community, selected the winners.
The winner was Callie Holley, a senior from the Houston School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Jaurius Norman, a Cedar Hill High School junior, finished second. Madison Meadows, a junior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, was third.
“For young people, and especially African-American kids, Wilson is just such a towering figure,” said Benard Cummings, the associate professor of theater in SMU Meadows School of the Arts who organized the SMU competition. “Here was this gifted black American, chronicling the lives of black Americans, in plays written for and starring black actors.
“Right now, Black Panther is all the rage,” he said. “There’s all this talk about how exciting it is that young African-American audiences can see a superhero who looks like them, and a cast they can relate to up on the screen. Well, August Wilson was writing about people that black kids can relate to a long, long time ago.”