South Sound teens head to New York for theater competition

On Monday, two South Sound teens will have an opportunity most thespians only dream of: They’ll perform on a Broadway stage.

Timberline High School junior Anthony Toney and Olympia High School junior Jaron Crawford are headed to the National August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York.

They won the all-expenses-paid trip by placing in the top three spots at a regional August Wilson Monologue Competition at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Noah Skillman, a senior at South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, also was a finalist.

“I have never been there (to New York) before; I’m so excited,” said Toney, who has performed in school drama productions for about four years. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and a lot of first times for me.”

The teens will compete against about 20 other finalists who hail from programs in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Portland, Los Angeles and New York.

The primary goal is to teach students about the African-American playwright August Wilson, said Zoe Wilson, education program officer at Seattle Rep. Wilson’s work includes a series of 10 plays that earned him two Pulitzer Prizes. Each play depicts African-American life in a different decade of the 20th century.

“He is absolutely legendary in what he achieved,” Zoe Wilson said.

All of the competitors prepared a monologue from Wilson’s “Century Cycle.” The three regional finalists received professional coaching sessions with Seattle Rep staff to prepare for the national competition.

“It’s definitely shown me that I have lots of room to grow and learn,” said Crawford, who has performed in several local theater productions over the past decade. “I’ve had a lot of training, but it’s humbling to work with people who know so much more than me. It’s been a really good experience.”

Toney said he’s performing a piece from “Two Trains Running.” His monologue is by Memphis, a businessman in Pittsburgh during the civil rights movement.

“This character is speaking from the black community’s perspective and his own perspective,” Toney said. “And I feel like I connect because I am a homosexual, and the homosexual community has the same issues now.”

Crawford’s character is Troy Maxson from Wilson’s “Fences,” which is set in the 1950s. At one point, the character recalls being beaten into unconsciousness by his father.

“I think the storyline — the monologue itself — is really impacting because it’s really emotional, and it’s a sensitive subject,” Crawford said.

The teens are each competing to take home one of the top three national prizes, which range from $500 to $1,500, Zoe Wilson said. They’ll also get to see a Broadway show, spend three days in New York City, and bring home a hardbound copy of “The August Wilson Century Cycle,” she said.

Wilson added that she wasn’t surprised that two of Seattle’s winners were from the South Sound, because Timberline High School theater teacher and director Brenda Amburgy and Olympia High School theater and drama teacher Kathy Dorgan are huge supporters of the program.

“They are the gatekeepers,” Wilson said. “We offer this program to any school, but it’s those drama teachers like Brenda Amburgy and Kathy Dorgan who make it happen for those students.”