Culture Connection: A Century of Humanity

Last Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of attending Center Theatre Group’s Third Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition (AWMC)-Regional Semi-Finals.  An inspiring evening filled with, artistic promise, genuine displays of community and a greater vision of what the American theatre can look like. The AWMC is a commitment to Wilson that his words shall not be forgotten by future generations. I was moved and touched by this awesome occasion and impressed by the courage of 12 semi-finalists from across southern California High Schools, all hoping for that once in a lifetime opportunity to perform their monologue at the finals, on Broadway In New York, NY!

The competition is open to high school students from participating cities. The winners at the regional level will travel to the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway to participate in a weekend devoted to Wilson, exploring Broadway and New York City, and the final round of the competition (May 3-6, 2014).

Students perform a two to three minute monologue from any of the plays in August Wilson’s Century Cycle. The panel of judges will be comprised of theatre professionals from their respective communities. For the Los Angeles semi-finals our judges were Wren T.  Brown, Anita Dashiel, Robert Gossett, Joe Morton, Shana Waterman and William Allen Young.

First, second and third place receive scholarships in the amount of $1500, $750, $500, respectively. All finalists will receive a hardbound anthology of all ten of August Wilson’s plays. Check out this trailer for the documentary about the competition.

The AWMC started from a desire by Kenny Leon( Artistic Director of True Colors Theatre in Atlanta) and Todd Kreidler( August Wilson’s longtime dramaturg and friend) to introduce the genius of Wilson to a new generation.  If you’re not familiar with Mr. Wilson, I urge you to become acquainted with his words, with his genius, with his America.  Check out his New York Times Obituary that includes links to all the reviews of his plays, slideshows with production stills and features on one of America’s finest dramatists.

The only American playwright to write an entire 10 play cycle also known as the Century Cycle, about a culture’s progression over 100 years, Wilson’s plays have changed the theatrical cannon and have given opportunities for black actors where none previously existed. The plays are as follows:

Time Period- Play (Written)

1904 – Gem of the Ocean (2003)

1911 – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984)

1927 – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982)

1936 – The Piano Lesson (1986)

1948 – Seven Guitars (1995)

1957 – Fences (1983)

1969 – Two Trains Running (1990)

1977 – Jitney (1979)

1985 – King Hedley II (2001)

1997 – Radio Golf (2003)

In 1996 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles August Wilson’s Seven Guitars was the first professional play I had ever seen and it changed my life. It starred Keith David, Viola Davis, Roger Robinson, Michele Shay, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tommy Hollis and Rosalyn Coleman. Who knew these giants in the theatre would go on to have Tony, Oscar and Emmy winning careers! Who knew that in 1996 a young black man from South Central Los Angeles, would see his people on stage, pursue it as his career, eventually meet and know half that cast personally and work with them professionally. God did, and here I am 16 years later, making a career of humanity. Committing myself to the noble struggle for equal rights. Making a better person of myself, a greater nation of my country and a finer world to live in.