SMU hosts Dallas regional finals of monologue competition

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August Wilson was a well-known African American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of the 20th century. He expressed his emotions and personal experiences through his art.

High school students recited his words at SMU Meadows School of the Arts on Feb. 20 as part of the third year of the Dallas Regional Finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition.

The August Wilson Monologue Competition was created by Kenny Leon and True Colors Theater Company, a theater group based out of Atlanta. The main goal was carry on Wilson’s legacy to the youngest generation of artists in theater.

More than 110 students competed in the preliminary competition on Jan. 13. The competition included students from schools in Houston, Austin and Tyler, Texas. 23 finalists were selected for the regional finals.

Benard Cummings is the Associate Professor of Acting at SMU and serves as the Dallas Region Coordinator of this competition.

“Though we’ve only competed in the National competition for two years now, the Dallas Regional has extended almost inadvertently, to become the Texas Regional,” Cummings said in his opening remarks. “A development I hope, that continues to grow.”

High school students competed for a chance to advance to the national finals in New York City. Each of the 23 students presented a two-to three-minute monologue from Wilson’s 10 plays in his “Century Cycle.” “Gem of the Ocean,” “The Piano Lesson” and “Jitney” are a few that make up this collection.

Hassan El-Amin, an educator and actor at Dallas Theater Center, emceed the event.

“August is the most prolific playwright in history,” El-Amin said. “The work speaks to my soul, it’s like August was in my living room listening to my family when we’re all together.”

Between the presentations of each finalist, El-Amin would tell stories of Wilson and the creation of his art. He discussed Wilson’s childhood and how he feels personally connected to his work.

“[Wilson’s] plays tell a story of an impoverished black community, they stand out for their emotional weight and lyricism and musicality there is within them,” El-Amin said. “Through his dramas, the voiceless have a voice.”

The majority of the audience consisted of families, friends and teachers of the finalists, however, some SMU students were intrigued by the event and stopped by.

“I loved watching monologues in high school so I wanted to see what this was about,” SMU sophomore Riley O’Connell said. “I give these kids a lot of credit for acting in front of a large group of people, it definitely takes a lot of guts.”

During the judges’ deliberation, three SMU theatre students sang songs for the audience including “Forrest Gump” by Frank Ocean, which was performed acapella.

The students advancing to New York City were announced with Callie Holley, High School for the Performing Arts, taking first place.

“It’s really about the students on stage and where they go from here,” El-Amin said. “These students have the ability to end up in New York with an audience of amazing actors.”

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