On May 2, 2016, local high school students Damaris Vizvett and Samuel Christian performed onstage at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre in the August Wilson Monologue Competition National Finals. Vizvett, who earned first place in the Los Angeles Regional Finals, took second place, winning a $1,000 college scholarship and a $750 cash prize.
The National Finals capped off an action-packed long weekend for 18 high school students from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Dallas, and Greensboro, North Carolina. In between sight-seeing and rehearsing, Vizvett, Christian, and their peers saw Hamilton and The Color Purple, followed by talkbacks with both casts. “They were so inspiring,” said Vizvett. “It was absolutely amazing to be given the gift of theatre.”
The all-expenses-paid trip also included tours of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the August Wilson Theatre, a meeting with producer Jack Viertel, and conversations with Wilson’s collaborators Kenny Leon and Todd Kreidler, who served as director and dramaturg, respectively, on Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf.
Christian, the runner-up in the Regional Finals and the winner of the Ensemble Award for the regional finalist who best represents the spirit of ensemble, said that the highlight of his trip was meeting and bonding with his fellow student-performers. “I made friends that I’m definitely going to keep,” he said. “It was a really great experience because they brought some of their cities to New York with them, and shared their stories. I really liked the shows, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the people I met.”
Vizvett reprised her performance as Vera in Wilson’s Seven Guitars in front of an audience that included family, Center Theatre Group staff and donors, and her fellow national finalists. “Performing onstage at the August Wilson Theatre was such an honor. It was amazing to be able to share August Wilson’s beautiful work on this stage that has so much history,” said Vizvett. “I learned that as an actor you must be prepared to perform anywhere—and that not every performance is going to be the same, and you’re not always going to be in your comfort zone.”
Christian said that performing felt both comfortable and scary—at the same time. “Performing on that stage, I lived the character,” he explained of his turn as Elmore in King Hedley II. “I felt like I was a completely different person,” he said. “It was actually really kind of like a sigh of relief.” He added that hearing from the casts of Hamilton and The Color Purple about the tremendous effort they bring to the show every night made a tremendous impact on him. “They find passion in what they’re doing every night, even if they’re going to perform for the 200th night,” he said. “They have their experiences during the day and put them into the show, so every performance is different….I want to get to that point.” He added, “If they feel that way on the 231st show, I want to feel that exact thing.”