Earlier this week I attended auditions for the August Wilson Monologue Competition at Court Theatre. I love this program. I feel like it does so many things for so many of Chicago’s young people and has the potential to do much more. The competition is open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors throughout Chicagoland (competitors have come from as far away as St. Louis and Detroit, who could possibly turn away a high school student who wants to do a monologue). Each student prepares a 2-3 minute monologue from the August Wilson Century Cycle and performs it in front of a panel of judges made up of Chicago theatre professionals. From the preliminary auditions (one held at Court and the other held at Victory Gardens) and the second round auditions held at University of Illinois/Chicago, 20 finalists are chosen from the more than 250(!) students. Those finalists then compete at the Goodman and the top 3 go on to compete in New York against national competition from New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Last year our winner placed second in the National competition and Chicago has placed in the top three every year, the only city to do so.
Here’s why I love it. 250 (!) students are exposed to one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th Century. 250 (!) students are exposed to the joy of performing on one of Chicago’s great stages. 250(!) students get to meet at least five Chicago theatre professionals, and understand that theatre is a legitimate career path. 20 students are given all of that plus their schools are presented with August Wilson’s century cycle of plays, ensuring that more students will learn about August. These 20 are given additional coaching for their monologues from Chicago theatre professionals, deepening their understanding of the craft and their understanding of what a career in theatre means. The friends and family of these 20 students are also exposed to the work of August Wilson and to the extraordinary talent of Chicago’s young people. The final 3 are given the opportunity to travel to New York, all expenses paid. They receive additional coaching, see a Broadway show, meet with August Wilson’s collaborators, and the competition is judged by a panel of well-known theatre, film and tv professionals who the students have the opportunity to meet. They also receive cash scholarships and copies of the century cycle for themselves.
Another reason why I love it is that it involves so many collaborators – Court, Goodman, Victory Gardens, University of Illinois/Chicago, American Theatre Company, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre in Atlanta, all the judges and of course all the students. It is a true community happening and that makes me happy.
Finals this year will be at the Goodman on March 11 at 6:00 PM. Please come if you can, I am always completely amazed by these kids.