Throughout his career, playwright August Wilson produced the “American Century Cycle,” a series of ten plays that depicted the comical, yet tragic, aspects of the African American lifestyle in the 20th century. This year, Wilson’s legacy lives on as the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles hosted their seventh consecutive national monologue competition for Southern California at the Mark Taper Forum.
Participants were pooled from the Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties, with each competitor participating in orientation, educational workshops and several auditions. Out of 145 students, 12 finalists were selected to receive two months of training and rehearsals before taking the stage at the Regional Finals on March 5.
The 12 finalists competed in front of a panel of five professionals from the entertainment industry. Winners included juniors Hannah Franklin and Gerardo Navarro, as well as an alternate, Jackson Lewis, junior.
Franklin performed as the character Tonya from “King Hedley II” and secured first place.
“I had a really tough time fully developing my character,” Franklin said. “[Tonya] is so confident and actually believes in the words she is saying, and I wanted to convey those traits the most. It was definitely a learning experience for me.”
Since its inception in 2011, the National August Wilson Monologue Competition has been teaching artists to hone their acting and storytelling skills. Students receive feedback from theatre professionals in order to develop their own unique voices.
Fellow competitor Gerardo utilized the skills he gained from training and rehearsals to win the second place title. Acting in the same play as Franklin but as King Hedley II, Navarro garnered many laughs from the audience that left an impression on the judges.
“For as long as I could remember, I have always been in love with the arts,” Navarro said. “My goal for the competition was to be able to inspire other people. Theatre changed my life, so I wanted my performance to move the audience, whether it be encouraging them to read more August Wilson works or take an acting class.”
Similarly, third place winner Lewis not only made an impact on the judges and the audience but on his fellow finalists as well with his performance as Bynum Walker from “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
Voted to receive the Ensemble Award, Lewis was described as a person who embodied the team spirit, bringing life to the room and encouraging the others to perform their best, whether it be through his spontaneous dance sessions or uplifting speeches.
“The greatest part about this experience was that I got to meet so many talented and kind people,” Lewis said. “Receiving the Ensemble Award was the hugest honor because I believe that we all deserved to win.”
This competition not only helps an aspiring actor develop their skills and find their voice but also gain friendships and create memories that they will retain beyond their early years. Wilson established roots at the Center Theatre Group, and competitors in the monologue competition use his spirit as a vital source of ideas and motivation, keeping his memory alive in the process.
Everyone who was a part of producing the August Wilson Monologue Competition wishes Franklin and Navarro luck when they journey to New York City on May 7 to make their Broadway stage debuts at the August Wilson Theatre.