Seattle has a very special relationship with the late August Wilson. Pittsburgh may claim him as its native son but the playwright, who lived here for 15 years, was ours too: writing at some Queen Anne or Capitol Hill café (the now-gone B&O, for example); riding the #10 bus cross town; and, of course, there are his plays. Wilson, who The New York Times called “Theater’s Poet of Black America,” wrote 10 plays that constitute "The Pittsburgh Cycle." The works chronicle the experience of African Americans in the 20th Century.
Seattle Repertory Theatre is the only theater in the world that has produced the entire Pittsburgh Cycle, along with Wilson’s one-man show. Its annual August Wilson monologue competition is another way the Rep keeps Wilson’s legacy alive.
The competition is open to high school students; the top three finalists win cash prizes and become eligible for the national competition that takes place at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway in New York City - TODAY, Monday, May 4.
Back in 2010, Aubrey Taylor from Lacey’s Timberline High School nabbed second place. On Monday, Seattle's Jaron Crawford, Noah Skillman and Anthony Toney take their turn in the spotlight. This talented trio has forged a deep connection to Wilson’s art. I talked with Jaron, Noah and Andrew about themselves, their awe for the late playwright and the monologues they’ve chosen to perform on New York's Great White Way:
Jaron Crawford, 17, Olympia High School
“I never realized how much of a genius he [August Wilson] was. His characters are really relatable; his writing is so intelligent — those words! The first script I ever read was Fences. The character Troy blew my mind; he can be so likable and yet you hate him at the same time.”
For the competition, Jaron chose a Troy monologue from Fences, which debuted in 1983. The play is set in the 1950s. Troy is a 50-something garbage man who used to be a baseball player. In this scene, Troy flashes back to a singular moment when he was 14 years old.
Noah Skillman, 18, South Kitsap High School
“People are so scared to be raw. And August Wilson just lays it out there. He doesn’t try to cushion it. He doesn’t try to make it OK. And that’s what blew me away. The first time I read Gem of the Ocean I was so connected with the character Citizen Barlow. He feels so guilty and he puts that guilt on himself. He wants this hope back. He’s so hungry. And I immediately connected with the desperation. And that’s the beauty of it; what he writes surpasses skin color. It’s humanity.”
Noah performs a monologue from Gem of the Ocean, the first play in the Pittsburgh Cycle. It’s set in 1904. Citizen Barlow is a young man from Alabama who, in this scene, is desperate to be saved by Miss Tyler, a former slave and a “soul-cleanser.”
Anthony Toney, 17, Timberline High School
“I was born and raised in Texas. I used to go deep in the country and the conversations people have — they’re reflected in his work. He catches their intensity, their emotions, their truths. Memphis [from Two Trains Running] is very opinionated and that’s what I am. I’m also a religious person and I’m a homosexual. So [Memphis] battling and fighting [for racial equality], we’re fighting for a lot of rights we don’t have. That’s one of the things I can put my own emotions to.”
Anthony chose a Memphis monologue from Two Trains Running, set in 1969. Memphis Lee owns a modest diner and, in this scene, has a lot to say about the Black Power movement and the value of a shotgun.