It wasn’t nothing to you but it was something to me. To have you just up and walk out like that. What you think happened to me? Did you ever stop to ask yourself, “I wonder how Vera doing–I wonder how she feel?” I lay here every night in an empty bed. In an empty room. Where? Someplace special? Someplace where you had been? The same room you walked out of? The same bed you turned your back on? You give it up and you want it? What kind of sense does that make?
These are just some of the words you can hear bouncing off the walls of CO-OP High School’s black box theater on a typical Thursday afternoon. It is here that students are working with teaching artists from Long Wharf Theatre in preparation for the National August Wilson Monologue Competition.
The AWMC founded in 2007 by Kenny Leon and Todd Kreidler at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta.Through a series of partnerships between schools and regional theaters, students from across the country get to immerse themselves in all aspects of Wilson’s work. They then perform monologues from his plays at regional competitions in their hometowns. A select few are chosen from each participating city, and these finalists are then flown to New York for a final competition at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway. The program is now in ten cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Boston, and Pittsburgh among others. New Haven is currently in its shadow year of participation and will officially join the competition next year.
During the shadow year, Long Wharf Theatre and Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School have partnered to offer an after-school program focusing on August Wilson’s work. Once a week, CO-OP students work with Long Wharf teaching artists to learn about the plays, how to embody Wilson’s characters through acting exercises, and get to work intensely on performing one of his many monologues. “Students are able to receive insight on a playwright who not only looks like them but reflects their everyday lives or the lives of their parents.” says Treneé McGee, one of Long Wharf’s teaching artists. “It is more important now than ever that we spread artistic work and knowledge, educating individuals on how to become more productive in the lives of others. Wilson’s work will always be relevant to us, especially if we as a country want to grow.”
August Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. His literary legacy is a series of ten plays, The American Century Cycle. Each is set in a different decade and chronicles the African-American experience. August Wilson’s plays have a particular home in New Haven. The late Lloyd Richards, former Artistic Director of Yale Repertory Theatre, directed many of Wilson’s plays from their first reading all the way through production. This year, Yale Rep produced Wilson’s Seven Guitars, which represents the 1940s entry of the Century Cycle. In 2013 Long Wharf Theatre produced Fences, which is set in the 1950s. “Wilson’s plays are told with rich poetic beauty and lyricism of language. Through his extraordinary gift of storytelling, we understand the history and the identity of black culture in America,” says Barbara Hentschel, another Long Wharf teaching artist. “I look forward to seeing the students every week. It is a privilege to witness their exploration of the complex issues of race, oppression and identity in the world we live in. They are teaching me more than they will ever know!”
In May, there will be a mock competition for the students that have participated in the program this year. The hope is to build excitement amongst the students as well as other New Haven-area schools for next year, when New Haven will officially join as a participating city.