Michael Curry was shocked when he was chosen as the winner of the fourth annual Pittsburgh August Wilson Center for African American Culture Monologue Competition finals.
“I didn’t expect first place, but I did expect to place in the competition,” explained Curry, a 17-year-old Winchester Thurston senior who resides in East Liberty. “I entered the competition because August Wilson was strong and he lived vicariously through his characters and he conveyed his message through his arts.”
The August Wilson Monologue Competition was created four years ago in an effort to promote the legacy of August Wilson’s 10 world-class plays that are set in Pittsburgh in a different decade of the twentieth century. Support for the contest is provided by The Pittsburgh Foundation, Center for Inclusion at UPMC-Dignity and Respect Campaign, Highmark, Point Park University and the August Wilson Center.
The contest, which is open to freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors from eight Pittsburgh area high schools—which included West Mifflin, Winchester Thurston, CAPA, Wilkinsburg and the Alumni Theater Company—and students from the Atlanta, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City areas, is presented annually by the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project.
Contestants were judged on preparedness, understanding of the text, vocal delivery, emotional connection to the material and commitment to the character.
The winners from each city will travel to the final competition in New York City on May 7 to attend workshops, a performance and perform their winning monologues at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway. The top three finalists will receive a cash honorarium to put towards attending the final competition and will be awarded scholarships of $10,000, $7,000 and $5,000 to Point Park University Conservatory of Performing Arts acting program.
“The kids are responding to August Wilson and that’s what this is all about—-getting the kids introduced to him. The kids need to know who he is. This competition has been a rewarding experience for the kids. August Wilson is a gift that keeps on giving,” Nunn said. “His literature stands the test of time. All the kids can do this and get something out of it. This competition is so worthwhile.”
This year’s event was hosted by Kim “Dr. Goddess” Ellis, a well-known poet, playwright and artist who is the niece of August Wilson.
“We have gathered here to support our students as they continue the legacy of August Wilson,” said Ellis during the competition. “Memorizing a monologue can take you through your life and sustain you through your problems and August Wilson provides that.”
Students performed one to two and a half minute monologues from many of Wilson’s plays including “Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom,” “Piano Lesson” and “Radio Golf.”
“These kids have a genuine love and passion for August Wilson’s work. A lot of them don’t have a theater background, but they have an interest in August Wilson,” said Demeatria Boccella, managing director of the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project. “The kids connect with the characters in the plays. It’s amazing. The kids are pumped.”
But Curry’s interpretation of King from “King Headley II,” stole the show.
“I performed this monologue two years ago in a showcase and I really connected with it. It was funny and I liked his (king’s) resistance to fight against the White man. He knew his worth and he stood his ground. I liked his stance and he didn’t settle for anything less. I learned not to settle from anything less,” said Curry who will be majoring in theater and broadcast journalism at Morehouse next fall.
Fellow contestant and second place winner Shakara Wright said she enjoyed the challenge of getting the speech pattern of her male character of Levi from Wilson’s “Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom.”
“I worked really hard. It took me a while to try to become a man and get the speech pattern of it. The monologue was really deep,” said Wright, a 17-year-old Alumni Theater Company member who resides in the Hill District. Wright won a $250 cash prize and a $7,000 scholarship.
“These kids are continually making me proud,” said Hallie Donner, artistic director of the Alumni Theater Company, a youth company that exists to create work that represents the prospective of young artists growing up in an urban environment. The company currently has 25 students in grades six through 12.
Third place winner Cherish Morgan is glad to have made her family and Donner proud with her moving performance of a male character from Wilson’s Piano Lesson.
“I chose that monologue because I wanted to do a different character and because I love August Wilson,” said Morgan a 16-year-old tenth grader who resides in Homewood. In addition to a $100 cash prize, Morgan won a $5,000 scholarship.