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My Broadway Debut at the August Wilson Monologue Competition


L-R: Sharon Lawrence, York Walker, Mae Whitman and David Pittu in “The Mystery of Love & Sex” at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Written by Bathsheba Doran and directed by Robert Egan, “The Mystery of Love & Sex” plays February 10 – March 20, 2016, at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. For tickets and information, please visit or call (213) 628-2772. .Contact: CTG Media and Communications/ (213) 972-7376/ by Craig Schwartz.

All Uses © 2016 Craig Schwartz

My experience in New York City as a finalist in the August Wilson Monologue Competition was extraordinary: I was able to share and perform Wilson’s most gut-wrenching monologues with so many talented people, from all walks of life—on Broadway in the August Wilson Theatre! But most importantly, the atmosphere of the competition and the entire weekend was always fun and light. An icebreaker workshop on Saturday set the tone for the trip: improv games and physical warm-ups broke the tension in the room while allowing all of us to get to know one another. After the workshop, during dinner, I was able to laugh with the other contestants as we shared fun facts about our states and ourselves. To be completely honest, I didn’t feel like I was competing at all; everyone supported one another throughout the entire process and gave off nothing but good vibes.

Aside from workshops and acting exercises, I also enjoyed sight-seeing throughout the trip. Given that this was my first time in New York, I wanted to do all the touristy things first-timers do. During our free time, my chaperones and I went shopping in Times Square, visited the Fame high school (the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts), and walked through Central Park and Theatre Row.

Shaila Essley performs during the August Wilson Monologue Competition Los Angeles Regional Finals at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum on March 2, 2015, in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging. However, the most memorable “monument” I saw was the Apollo Theater. Thanks to True Colors Theatre in Atlanta, which organized the competition and our activities, I was able not only to see the Apollo inside and out, but also to perform on its stage and touch the Tree of Hope! (The Tree of Hope is a section of tree trunk that performers rub for good luck on the Apollo’s famous Wednesday Amateur Nights.)

The most impactful event of the trip was simply performing August Wilson monologues on the subway while on the way to the Apollo with the other students. The new environment and audience forced all of us to focus on telling a story as a living person rather than “acting” as a character. Besides the subway, performing on August Wilson Theatre’s stage was also unforgettable: I have always dreamed of performing on Broadway and never expected to have accomplished this dream so soon. At first I was extremely nervous because I had never performed in a huge theatre like this one before, but as soon as I walked onto the stage, my nerves turned into electric energy. Then, walking up to perform my monologue, I was finally able to let go of all the pressures I had put on myself and just give the performance my all.

I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, and wish I could go back and relive the experience. I urge anyone who is interested in participating in the competition to just go for it; the August Wilson Monologue Competition has built me up as an actor by allowing me to tell powerful stories while building my craft. Finally, for the national finalists next year I have one piece of advice: Stay off your phone! This kind of trip only comes once in a lifetime; you will want to savor every moment so you can hang onto the memories.