Auditions are always a roller coaster of emotions, and the preliminary auditions for this year’s August Wilson Monologue Competition were no exception. One hundred forty-six students from 45 high schools in 52 cities convened at Center Theatre Group’s Downtown L.A. headquarters on Saturday, November 14 to ride this particular coaster. Their assignment—to perform the monologue of their choice from August Wilson’s Century Cycle of 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century—would take only three minutes or less to complete. But Center Theatre Group’s Education and Community Partnerships team strived to make it a deeper, more meaningful experience with an outsized impact on participants’ lives.
This year for the first time, nearly every participant attended an orientation workshop prior to the preliminary auditions to get audition tips and practice with acting techniques. Upon arrival at the audition, they confirmed their monologue choices at check-in before heading to the waiting room to relax and prep. Some participants led warm-ups amongst themselves; others contemplated the task ahead in solitude. Teaching artists delivered last words of encouragement designed to pump everyone up before they entered the rehearsal room to stand (or sit) before an audition panel of three judges plus an accuracy judge. Afterward, participants downloaded the experience with teaching artists and on camera.
Teaching artist Elena Muslar—who was one of CTG’s first August Wilson Program interns in 2011—said that a highlight of the day was “surveying students in the moment right after their audition about how they were feeling and what they were proud of accomplishing while giving them a peaceful, private moment to relax and take a deep breath.” The students “were experiencing their most heightened, true, and raw emotions,” she said.
“I was really impressed with their courage, and by how many young, talented, and brave young people are willing to go audition,” said teaching artist Tiana Alvarez. She was also surprised by how positive the students were after coming out of the auditions. “I was expecting to speak with people who were very distraught or upset, but it felt like it was very positive overall for every person that I talked to,” she said. “It seemed that they were all really coming out knowing a lot more, and having an experience that was going to strengthen them in the future.”
Muslar concurred. “I think the students learned a lot about resilience and confidence from the way some of them had to recover from a flubbed line or take on the attributes of a character that may have seemed intimidating at first,” she said. “I also hope that they recognize that this whole experience is one created for them to learn—about a phenomenal playwright and their potential to breathe life into his creative works.”
Teaching artist Bernard Addison agreed that Wilson and learning are at the center of the day. “I hope that the biggest takeaway the students have from this experience is to witness a larger collective of artists all gathering and giving their all to the celebration of the work of one of the true singular voices of the theatre,” he said. “This process speaks to the larger lesson of collaborative art. Even though it is a monologue, it is still a collaboration—actor and text, actor and coach, actor and the community of artists at CTG that did their very best to make it a day for them to shine.”
Added Muslar, “I think August Wilson is looking down smiling because his Century Cycle hasn’t ended. His writings were merely the beginning. The cycle continues every time a new generation is introduced to and gets the opportunity to really meet his work through wonderful programs like the August Wilson Monologue Competition at CTG.”