On Feb. 26, playwright August Wilson’s name was evoked at the Academy Awards when Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress for “Fences.” The following day, Wilson’s words were brought to life by a dozen Southern California high school students during the regional finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition, held at the Center Theatre Group on Temple Street.
Now in its 10th year, AWMC is a free program where high school students in 10 U.S. cities learn and perform monologues from August Wilson’s plays. The top two finalists in each region go to New York City to compete in the finals.
Hailing from across Southern California, the 12 competing students in this region met at Center Theatre Group every other Saturday during January and February to work on their monologues with theater professionals. During this process, the high schoolers were more like performers in an ensemble than rivals. According to Leslie K. Johnson, CTG’s Director of Social Strategy, Innovation and Impact, they formed a strong group bond, deeply discussing their monologues while getting to know one another.
CTG also arranged for the students to meet actors from its recent production of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and its current revival of “Zoot Suit.” This AWMC program, explained Johnson, gave the teens a taste of real theater and let them develop skills and tools they could use in the classroom and in life.
One of these finalists, Ehvinny Mora, admitted she found the process challenging. “I’ve never worked so hard on one monologue or character,” she says. Mora, a senior at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, says she was surprised to be one of the 12 finalists chosen from among the 133 who tried out. But she calls making the regional finals “a validation that I was doing something right.” Mora, who performed a monologue from Wilson’s final play, “Radio Golf,” says connects with Wilson’s plays because of his depiction of strong female characters.
While Mora wasn’t chosen to go to New York City for the finals, her Cortines classmates Aryana Williams and Alexander Villaseñor, who finished first and second respectively, will be representing Los Angeles on May 1 at Broadway’s August Wilson Theater, where Southern California’s Damaris Vizvett finished second last year.
Learn more about the competition at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org/AugustWilson.