An August pursuit
An August pursuit

“August Wilson was my mentor, and my friend. Once he passed, I was looking for a way to give back, in the way he gave to me.” – Derrick Sanders, Assistant Professor, Theatre

Every winter, for the past nine years, Derrick Sanders has watched and listened intently as high-school students have presented monologues written by his mentor and friend the celebrated dramatist August Wilson, and every year Sanders has been impressed. “The kids are amazing,” he says. “They perform Black Mary from Gem of the Ocean, or Troy from Fences, and they dis-cover not only the genius of August Wilson, but their own talent.”

The August Wilson Monologue Competition is national, and thousands of student thespians participate. Held every year in theatres across Chicago, and in other cities across the country, the competition invites sophomore, junior, and senior students to explore and share the richness of August Wilson’s work by presenting a two-to-three-minute monologue from Wilson’s Century Cycle of plays.

“The competition is a collaboration of mine with the UIC School of Theatre & Music, the League of Chicago Theatres, Goodman Theatre, and Broadway in Chicago. Our corporate sponsor is Allstate, and from the beginning we have received generous funding from the UIC CHANCE Program,” Sanders explains. “The competition is promoting literacy and higher education, and UIC provides a modest scholarship to the winner, but it also gets theatres excited about teaching August Wilson in the schools and employs local actors as teachers. Here in Chicago we see 300 or 400 students in preliminaries and bring the number down to 60. Then those 60 compete in semifinals, this year held at the Goodman Theatre, until we get to 20, and then, finally, we will select two students to join the winners from Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Dallas, Greensboro, Los Angeles, New Haven, New York, Pittsburgh, Portland, and Seattle to perform their monologues at the August Wilson Theatre in New York.”

While in New York the finalists will also see Broadway plays and work with master teachers from the Broadway stage. Sanders adds, “Finally, we select a national winner, but it’s the process of learning, delivering, and understanding the monologues, and lifelong love for theatre and self-discovery that the competition really celebrates. For me, it’s a passion piece.”

Image: Derrick Sanders, Assistant Professor, Theatre