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High school students compete in monologue competition at the Milwaukee Rep

Don Rebar
Milwaukee Repertory Theater
The ten Milwaukee Regionals finalists for the 2023 Next Narrative Monologue Competition.

Area high schoolers met this week at the Milwaukee Rep to compete in the Next Narrative Monologue Competition. It's a national program featuring monologues by fifty contemporary Black playwrights. Students delivered powerful monologues from playwrights such as Robert O’Hara, Candice Jones and Josh Wilder.

Two students won cash prizes and an all expenses paid trip to New York City. There, they'll compete against other regional winners at the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

On Wednesday night, one after another, ten young artists from area high schools delivered compelling monologues in front of a crowd of 40 people. Five in the audience were the competition’s judges. They watched and listened for things like pronunciation, technique and students' overall understanding of the text.

After the last performance wrapped, the host called for an intermission, and the judges deliberated. The crowd filed into the Rep’s lobby for a dance party and drinks while waiting for the winners to be announced.

N’Jameh Camara has seen the competition through all of its stages. She's associate director of engagement for the Milwaukee Rep, and the show's producer.

Camara says it's been a long road, with constant communication and transparency about what this program offers.

Don Rebar
Milwaukee Regionals winners Ryon Davis (First Place; Pius XI High School) and Sanaiah Hibbler (Second Place; Oak Creek High School).

“Listen, we all know the power of how art can transform lives for youth, but the thing is, you don't know what you need until it's in front of you. So, to be able to provide this free programming and to say to youth, no matter what their theatrical background, come and join us, it says to them, 'Wow, look at this opportunity for me.' And it helps them learn skills of how to be an ensemble," Camara says. "It helps them learn skills of how to take space, not just emote, but really, how do you speak your voice through this monologue? Have the audacity to show up for yourself and for the ensemble around you to perform and to perform well."

Sanaiah Hibbler of Oak Creek High School was more excited than nervous. She says one of the things she loved about the competition was that, as a performer, she was able to choose the monologue to deliver. But it wasn't easy:

"I went through about two or three monologues, but I finally landed on ‘Saying no to the dress' by Stacy Rose and I felt just reading it, I was like, this is the one that I have to do. This is the one that resonates with me, and this is the story that I want to tell, but I think all the monologues that have been chosen and all the monologues that have been selected for the Compendium are just beautiful pieces of art," says Hibbler

Hibbler says it was crucial to have the time with the cohort of competitors to work on their selected monologues. It helped her grow as an artist, and it helped her establish a relationship with her peers.

Hibbler says there's something special about being the person who brings a story out into the world. And she says the program highlights the importance of arts for youth -- and the value of telling stories.

When the winners were announced, Hibbler learned she placed second in the competition.

She and Ryon Davis won cash prizes and a trip to New York to perform in the national stage of the monologue competition.

Support for the Eric Von Broadcast Fellowship is provided, in part, by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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