Students exposed to genius of Wilson

Veteran actor Bill Nunn wants to introduce young people of today to the great contributions of Pittsburgh Playwright August Wilson.

“Our young people need to be aware of Pittsburgh’s own August Wilson,” Nunn said. “I believe that the depth and breadth of August Wilson’s insight is on a level comparable to William Shakespeare. He is truly one of the premiere voices of American literature.”

With the creation of the August Wilson Monologue Competition in 2008, Nunn is able to teach students about Wilson’s importance.


“When Bill first came home (back to Pittsburgh), he wanted to connect with young people who are not being reached in the arts,” explained Demeatria Gibson Boccella, spokesperson for the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project, an arts initiative that collaborates with the Atlanta-based True Colors, headed by stage and film director Kenny Leon, to prepare and coach students from local high schools for Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Monologue Competition.

Boccella said there are approximately 30 high school students from about eight area high schools participating in the competition. Some of these schools include West Mifflin High School, CAPA, Westinghouse and Winchester Thurston.

“I’m really excited about the competition and I’m constantly inspired by these kids because they are passionate about what they are doing,” Boccella said. “This competition is just going to get bigger and bigger in Pittsburgh and we really want the community to come out and support the kids.”

Each student will present a one to two minute monologue.

The Mission of the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project is to create a platform for underserved public school students in the Pittsburgh region to gain access to theater arts and work with seasoned professionals within the field.

The competition is held regionally in Pittsburgh, New York City, Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago. Participation in the competition is free but students must register online at to be eligible.

“Bill wanted to include Pittsburgh in the competition because that’s where August Wilson is from, “ Boccella said.

Each year, Nunn prepares students from several selected Pittsburgh-area high schools for the August Wilson Monologue Competition. This year, however, Nunn offered free coaching lessons on Saturdays for students from other local high schools who wish to participate in the competition.

“The kids choose their own monologues that really resonate with them. Bill coaches them and looks at specific areas like energy, physical presentation, characterization and vocal projection. He helps them to understand the text and the character of the piece they have chosen,” Boccella said.

This year’s August Wilson Monologue Competition was held on Monday, April 18 at the August Wilson Center. The top three winners were awarded scholarships to Point Park University in the amounts of $10,000, $7,000 and $5,000. The national competition will be held May 3 in New York City. The top three winners from all of the competing cities will travel to New York City for the national finals and the August Wilson Theater on Broadway.

Last year the Pittsburgh finalists got to meet the cast of Kenny Leon’s Tony Award-winning revival of August Wilson’s “Fences” on Broadway, including Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Nunn, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh and is the son of famous sports writer and Steelers scout Bill Nunn Jr., and grandson of Courier giant Bill Nunn Sr., has starred in more than 60 feature films. He created one of film’s most famous roles: Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do The Right Thing.” In addition he has also had roles in other movies including “Sister Act,” “Runaway Jury” and the three “Spider-Man” movies. In 2004, Nunn appeared in the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and in 2008 he was in the milestone production of “August Wilson’s 20th Century” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

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