Brandon J. Dirden Leads August Wilson Competition
Broadway and TV star Brandon J. Dirden (All the Way, Jitney, The Americans) hosted the 11th annual New York City August Wilson Monologue Competition, sponsored by LEAP (Learning through an Expanded Arts Program, Inc.). A total of 15 LEAP students from nine New York high schools in four boroughs brought the audience to their feet as they embodied Wilson's characters and provided their own interpretations-immersing them in Wilson's world of 10 plays, referred to as The Century Cycle.
The presentation was held Monday evening, March 4, on Stage 2 of New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., New York, N.Y.
Mikayla McClain, of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, Manhattan, took first place; Cherish Patton, of Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts, Manhattan, took second place; and James Moore, of Hillcrest High School, Jamaica, Queens, took third place. McClain and Patton will move on to Nationals and Moore will serve as an alternate. They will represent New York City at the National August Wilson Monologue Competition on Monday, May 6, 7 pm, at The August Wilson Theatre, 245 W. 52 St, New York, N.Y.
LEAP's New York City competition judges included performers from Broadway and Off Broadway, many of whom are Wilsonian actors themselves: Brian D. Coats, Jolie Garrett, Tanesha Gary, Jamil A.C. Mangan, and Rosalyn Coleman Williams. Michael Perreca, LEAP Director of Advancement, directed the event. Marcus D. Harvey, Lead Mentor of the August Wilson program, directed a special Alternates Montage, featuring alternates from each of the schools.
"These students were riveting and Brandon J. Dirden was the perfect host to usher in a new generation of Wilsonian actors," says Rich Souto, LEAP's Executive Director. "This is a LEAP highlight every year."
Through a comprehensive LEAP artist residency, students explore and inhabit characters from Wilson's plays, chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century, and choose the monologues that speak to them. This competition is the culmination of LEAP's August Wilson Program, and is part of a nationwide initiative, introducing new generations of high school students to the works of the renowned playwright (winner of two Pulitzer Prizes), while exploring African-American history and his legacy. The National August Wilson Competition is presented by Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company, Jujamcyn Theaters, Delta Air Lines, and Aetna, and hosted by Leon himself.
Student semi-finalists included:
Kenndiany De Jesus and Ifeoma Ezike from Gramercy Arts High School (alternate: Alexander Genao);
McClain and Zaria Felix from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School (alternate: Annalisa D'Aguilar);
Patton and Jordan Hampton from Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts (alternate: Ndeye Niang); and Kiarah Atkins from Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts
Melody Velasquez from Belmont Company High School for Theatre Arts;
and Mariamu Touray from Frederick Douglass Academy III Secondary School
BROOKLYN: Arissa Collymore and Jason Plasencia from Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (alternate: Kimberly Alicea); and Natalya Gammon and Estaban Portis from Spring Creek Community School (alternate: Danashia Pellom)
QUEENS: Moore and Alana Rodriguez from Hillcrest High School (alternate: Mya Chamberlain)
A special video performance featured Stella Sidemion from New World High School, Bronx.
Brandon J. Dirden was featured in the casts of the Tony-winning productions of Jitney (Booster) and All the Way (Martin Luther King, Jr.), as well as this year's Emmy-winning series The Americans. He has directed and performed in several August Wilson plays.
LEAP's August Wilson Program and Competition is made possible by the Applebaum Foundation, Axe-Houghton Foundation, Richenthal Foundation, Rosenthal Family Foundation, Leo Rosner Foundation, Ted Snowdon Foundation, and Michael Tuch Foundation. LEAP's citywide arts programs are made possible in part by The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
LEAP's mission is to provide quality educational arts programs to promote access and equity for New York City students underserved in the arts. Through artistic inquiry and expression, LEAP inspires diverse school communities to be more engaged in learning and build their creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills. Serving New York's educational community for more than 40 years, LEAP reaches 20,000 students in 160 schools in all five boroughs annually.