A lucky 13 students from Hillcrest High in Jamaica showed off their acting chops by reciting monologues from the plays of August Wilson during a competition held at the school on Feb.
The winners will go on to a citywide contest and if they pass that round, on to a national competition. Prizes include scholarships, cash and a collection of August Wilson’s plays.
Wilson’s writing career included a series of 10 plays, each set in a different decade, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the African-American experience in the 20th century. And although the participants were too young to remember the times they were re-enacting, they were not inhibited in giving stellar performances.
The winners were Adonis Martinez, 18, who portrayed Caesar; Nile Granger, 17, as Citizen; and Amanda Morris, 18, as Black Mary, all from “Gem of the Ocean.” The alternate was Marie Morrero, 17, who portrayed Tonya from “King Hedley II.”
“There’s no time to be nervous,” Martinez said. “You just have to focus on the scene and get into the moment.”
Other participants in the competition were Arun Seoparsan, Jamel Graham, Holly Surujpaul, Omar Gill, Kahleel Barret, Karrone Mills, Jazmin Lopez, Crystal Wallen and Kevin Corredor.
The contest is part of the August Wilson Program by LEAP, which stands for Learning through an Expanded Arts Program. Led by theater professionals, the year-long learning experience helps students explore social and historical events as presented in Wilson’s plays.
Morris said the role of Black Mary really spoke to her, and she could identify with the character’s struggle. Mary was a housekeeper who performed many duties for her boss Esther, who was never satisfied. One day Mary snaps and tells her boss how she really feels.
“She was standing up for herself for the first time in her life,” Morris explained.
Morrero chose one of the most poignant moments in King Hedley II, a monologue in which the character of Tonya talks about terminating her pregnancy because she does not want to bring another child into a violent world to live in poverty.
“I don’t have kids, but I feel very close to my younger sister,” Morrero said. “I’m very protective of her. I can understand when Tonya talks about young people not respecting life. Just look at the crime that happens every day.”