August Wilson Monologues | We Are Actors

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august wilson monologues
August Wilson Monologues

August Wilson is one of the most influential playwrights in American history. His series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh Cycle, capture the varied experiences of Black Americans in 20th century. Each play is set in a different decade ranging from the years 1904 to 1997. Five of his plays have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and two of his plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson, won it. Nine of his plays have been nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. Wilson said the main themes of all of his plays are “love, honor, duty and betrayal.” Please enjoy this list of August Wilson monologues we have compiled for you!

FENCES MONOLOGUES

ROSE

Context: Rose defends her martial commitment to Troy.

Rose: I been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don‘t you think I ever wanted other things? Don‘t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me. Don‘t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget about my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel good? You not the only one who‘s got wants and need. But I held on to you, Troy. I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams . . . and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn‘t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and wasn‘t never gonna bloom. But I held you, Troy. I held you tighter. You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give you. And upstairs in that room . . . with the darkness falling in on me . . . I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn‘t the finest man in the world. And wherever you was going . . . I wanted to be there with you. Cause you was my husband. Cause that‘s the only way I was gonna survive as your wife. You always talking about what you give . . . and what you don‘t have to give. But you take too. You take . . . and don‘t even know nobody‘s giving!

Age: 30s 40s
Gender: Female
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue Here

TROY

Context: Troy tries to defend his reasoning for cheating on Rose through a baseball metaphor.

Troy: Rose, I done tried all my life to live decent . . . to live a clean . . . hard . . . useful life. I tried to be a good husband to you. In every way I knew how. Maybe I come into the world backwards, I don‘t know. But . . . you born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate. You got to guard it closely . . . always looking for the curve-ball on the inside corner. You can‘t afford to let none get past you. You can‘t afford a call strike. If you going down . . . you going down swinging. Everything lined up against you. What you gonna do. I fooled them, Rose. I bunted. When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job… I was safe. Couldn‘t nothing touch me, I wasn‘t gonna strike out no more. I wasn‘t going back to the penitentiary. I wasn‘t gonna lay in he streets with a bottle of wine. I was safe. I had me a family. A job. I wasn‘t gonna get that last strike. I was on first looking for one of them boys to knock me in. To get me home. Then I saw that girl . . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried . . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand, after eighteen years I wanted to steal second.

Age: 40s 50s
Gender: Male
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue Here


THE PIANO LESSON MONOLOGUES

BOY WILLIE

Context: Boy Willie asserts his commitment to living at the top of life, even though he feels how he and his family started at the bottom.

Boy Willie: What I want to bring a child into this world for? Why I wanna bring somebody else into all this for? I‘ll tell you this . . . If I was Rockefeller I‘d have forty or fifty. I‘d make one everyday. Cause they gonna start out in life with all the advantages. I ain‘t got no advantages to offer nobody. Many is the time I looked at my daddy and seen him staring off at his hands. I got a little older I know what he was thinking. He sitting there saying, ―I got these big hands but what I‘m gonna do with them? Best I can do is make a fifty-acre crop for Mr. Stovall. Got these big old hands capable of doing anything. I can take and build something with these hands. But where‘s the tools? All I got is these hands. Unless I go out here and kill me somebody and take what they got . . . it‘s a long row to hoe for me to get something of my own. So what I‘m gonna do with these big old hands? What would you do? See now . . . if he had his own land he wouldn‘t have felt that way. If he had something under his feet that belonged to him he could stand up taller. That‘s what I‘m talking about. Hell, the land is there for everybody. All you got to do is figure out how to get you a piece. Ain‘t no mystery to life. You just got to go out and meet it square on. If you got a piece of land you‘ll find everything else fall right into place. You stand right up next to the white man and talk about the price of cotton . . . the weather, and anything else you want to talk about. If you teach that girl that she is living at the bottom of life, she‘s gonna grow up and hate you.

Age: 20s 30s 40s
Gender: Male
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue Here

WINNING BOY

Context: The Wining boy grieves for his repetitive, narrow lifestyle of being a musician.

WINING BOY : I give that piano up. That was the best thing that ever happened to me, getting rid of that piano. That piano got so big and I‘m carrying it around on my back. I don‘t wish that on nobody. See, you think it‘s all fun being a recording star. Got to carrying that piano around and man did I get slow. Got just like molasses. The world just slipping by me and I‘m walking around with that piano. Alright. Now, there ain‘t but so may places you can go. Only so many road wide enough for you and that piano. And that piano get heavier and heavier. Go to a place and they find out you play piano, the first thing they want to do is give you a rink, find you a piano, and sit you right down. And that‘s where you gonna be for the next eight hours. They ain‘t gonna let you get up! Now, the first three or four hours of that is fun. You can‘t get enough whiskey and you can‘t get enough women and you don‘t never get tired of playing that piano. But that only last so long. You look up one day and hate the whiskey, and you hate the women, and you hate the piano. But that‘s all you got. You can‘t do nothing else. All you know how to do is play that piano. Now, who am I? Am I me? Or am I the piano player? Sometime it seem like the only thing to do is shoot the piano player cause he the cause of all the trouble I‘m having.

Age: 20s 30s
Gender: Male
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue Here

Context: Berniece argues in defense of keeping the piano, and thereby the ancestors’s legacy, in opposition to supporting the violent ways of Boy Willie.

BERNIECE

Berniece: You ain‘t taking that piano out of my house. (She crosses to the piano) Look at this piano. Look at it. Mama Ola polished this piano with her tears for seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbed on it till her hands bled. Then she rubbed the blood in … mixed it up with the rest of the blood on it. Every day that God breathed life into her body she rubbed and cleaned and polished and prayed over it. ―Play something for me, Bernice. Play something for me, Bernice. Every day. ―I cleaned it up for you, play something for me, Bernice. You always talking about your daddy but you ain‘t never stopped to look at what his foolishness cost your mama. Seventeen years‘ worth of cold nights and an empty bed. For what? For a piano? For a piece a wood? To get even with somebody? I look at you and you‘re all the same. You, Papa Boy Charles, Wining Boy, Doaker, Crawley . . . you‘re all alike. All this thieving and killing and thieving and killing. And what it ever lead to? More killing and thieving. I ain‘t never seen it come to nothing. People getting burned up. People getting shot. People falling down their wells. It don‘t never stop.

Age: 20s 30s 40s
Gender: Female
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue Here


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Context: Levee refuses to be beat down about the imposing authority of white men within his life and musicianship.

LEVEE: Levee got to be Levee! And he don‘t need nobody messing with him about the white man —cause you don‘t know nothing about me. You don‘t know Levee. You don‘t know nothing about what kind of blood I got! What kind of heart I got beating here! (Pounds his chest) I was eight years old when I watched a gang of white mens come into my daddy‘s house and have to do with my mama any way they wanted. (Pause) We was living in Jefferson County, about eighty miles outside of Natchez. My daddy‘s name was Memphis . . . Memphis Lee Green . . . had him near fifty acres of good farming land. I‘m talking about good land! Grow anything you want! He done gone off of shares and bought this land from Mr. Hallie‘s widow woman after he done passed on. Folks called him an uppity nigger cause he done saved and borrowed to where he could buy this land and be independent. (Pause) It was coming on planting time and my daddy went into Natchez to get him some seed fertilizer. Called me, say, ―Levee, you the man of the house now. Take care of your mama while I‘m gone. I wasn‘t but a little boy, eight years old. (Pause) My mama was frying up some chicken when them mens come in that house. Must have been eight or nine of them. She standing there frying that chicken and them mens come and took hold of her just like you take hold of a mule and make him do what you want. (Pause) There was my mama with a gang of white mens. She tried to fight them off, but I could see where it wasn‘t gonna do her any good. I didn‘t know what they were 59 doing to her . . . but I figured whatever it was they may as well do to me too. My daddy had a knife that he kept around there for hunting and working and whatnot. I knew where he kept it and I went and got it. I‘m gonna show you how spooked up I was by the white man. I tried my damndest to cut one of them‘s throat! I hit him in the shoulder with it. He reached back and grabbed hold of that knife and whacked me across the chest with it. (Raises his shirt to show a long ugly scar.) That‘s what made them stop. They was scared I was gonna bleed to death. My mama wrapped a sheet around me and carried me two miles down to the Furlow place and they drove me up to Doc Albans. He was waiting on a calf to be born, and say he ain‘t had time to see me. They carried me up to Miss Etta, the midwife, and she fixed me up. My daddy came back and acted like he done accepted the facts of what happened. But he got the names of them mens from mama. He found out who they was and then we announced we was moving out of that county. Said good-bye to everybody . . . all the neighbors. My daddy went and smiled in the face of one of them crackers who had been with my mama. Smiled in his face and sold him our land. We moved over with relations I Caldwell. He got us settled in and then he took off one day. I ain‘t never seen him since. He sneaked back, hiding up in the woods, laying to get them eight or nine men. (Pause) My daddy wasn‘t spooked up by the white man. Nosir! And that taught me how to handle them. I seen my daddy go up and grin in this cracker‘s face . . . smile in his face and sell him his land. All the while he‘s planning how he‘s gonna get him and what he‘s gonna do to him. That taught me how to handle them. So you all just back up and leave Levee alone about the white man. I can smile and say ―yessir to whoever I please. I got time coming to me. You all just leave Levee alone about the white man.

Age: 20s 30s
Gender: Male
From: Movies
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue Here


KING HEDLEY MONOLOGUES

RUBY

Context: Ruby reflects on her complex relationship with her son, asserting that only God knows why people are brought into this world.

RUBY: I done tried everything I know. King don‘t believe I love him. It‘s a mother‘s love. It don‘t never go away. I love me but I love King more. Sometimes I might not love me but there don‘t never come a time I don‘t love him. He don‘t understand that. King don‘t know he lucky to be here. I didn‘t want to have no baby. Seem to me like I got off to a bad start. I wanted to have an abortion. Somebody sent me up there to see Aunt Ester. I thought she did abortions. It didn‘t take me long to find out I was in the wrong place. She was sitting in a room with a red curtain. A little old woman wearing a stocking cap. I can‘t say if she had any teeth or not. She was just sitting there. Told me to come closer where she could put her hands on my head. I got real peaceful. Seem like all my problems went away. She told me man can plant the seed but only God can make it grow. Told me God was a good judge. I told her that‘s what scared me. She just laughed and told me, ―God has three hands. Two for that baby and one for the rest of us. That‘s just the way she said it. ―God got three hands. Two for that baby and one for the rest of us. You got your time coming. I never will forget that. I used to look at King and try and figure it out. But I ain‘t seen nothing to make her say that. I thought maybe she was just telling me that but she ain‘t supposed to lie about nothing like that. I just ain‘t never seen nothing that would make him that special. That‘s what I‘m telling you about that baby you carrying. You never know what God have planned. You can‘t all the time see it. That‘s what Louise used to tell me. You can‘t all the time see it but God can see it good.

Age: 40s 50s 60s
Gender: Female
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

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KING HEDLEY

Context: King Hedley critiques the rampant discrimination in the American justice system.

I ain‘t sorry for nothing I done. And ain‘t gonna be sorry. I‘m gonna see to that. ‘Cause I‘m gonna do the right thing. Always. It ain‘t in me to do nothing else. We might disagree about what that is. But I know what is right for me. As long as I draw a breath in my body I‘m gonna do the right thing for me. What I got to be sorry for? People say, ―Ain‘t you sorry you killed Pernell? I ain‘t sorry I killed Pernell. The nigger deserve to die. He cut my face. I told the judge, ―Not Guilty. They thought I was joking. I say, ―The motherfucker cut me! How can I be wrong for killing him? That‘s common sense. I don‘t care what the law say. The law don‘t understand this. It must not. They wanna take and lock me up. Where‘s the understanding? If a burglar break in a white man‘s house to steal his TV and the white man shoot him they don‘t say he wrong. The law understand that. They pat him on the back and tell him to go on home. You see what I‘m saying? The jury come back and say, ―Guilty.‖ They asked them one by one. They all said, ―Guilty. Had nine white men and three white women. They all said, ―Guilty. They wouldn‘t look at me. I told them to look at me. Look at that scar. I got closer to where they could see my scar. The judge like to had a fit. They had six deputies come at me from all sides. They said I tried to attack the jury. I was just trying to get closer so they could see my face. They tried to run out the door. They took and put me in solitary confinement. Said I was unruly.

Age: 30s 40s
Gender: Male
From: Monologues From Plays
Type: Drama
One minute monologue: No

Download This Monologue


We hope this list of August Wilson monologues helps you with some material for acting class or even some material to work on in private.

Wilson said his writing was most influenced by “the four Bs”: the playwright Amiri Baraka (author of Dutchman), the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges, the painter Romare Beardem and blues music. In trying to emulate Bearden, Wilson said: “I try to make my plays the equal of his canvases. In creating plays I often use the image of a stewing pot in which I toss various things that I’m going to make use of—a black cat, a garden, a bicycle, a man with a scar on his face, a pregnant woman, a man with a gun.” In writing The Pitsburgh Cycle, Wilson sought to feature strong female characters, elements of the supernatural and highlight the poetry in the everyday life of Black America. His legacy remains in productions of his work, film adaptations (a particular focus of Denzel Washington’s) and in the National August Wilson Monologue Competition, “inspiring high school students to find and express themselves through theatre.”

Aryana Williams: First Placed Winner of The August Wilson Monologue Competition

YouTube video

August Wilson Monologues

August Wilson Monologues FAQs

1. What is the August Wilson Monologue Competition?

The August Wilson Monologue Competition (AWMC) is an annual event where high school students from across the country perform monologues from August Wilson’s American Century Cycle of plays. The competition aims to introduce young people to Wilson’s work and to provide a platform for them to develop their acting skills

2. What is the significance of August Wilson’s monologues in American theater?

August Wilson’s monologues hold a singular place in American theater due to their rich characters, vivid language, and unflinching portrayal of the African American experience. Wilson’s work has been celebrated for its ability to capture the nuances and complexities of black life in America, and his influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary playwrights.

3. Which monologue is featured in the Netflix film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”?

The Netflix film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” features a monologue from the play of the same name, which is part of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle. The monologue is performed by the character Levee, played by Chadwick Boseman in his final role

4. Where can I find a performance of August Wilson’s monologues?

You can find performances of August Wilson monologues in theaters across the country, as well as on film and television. PBS’s American Masters series has produced a dramatic reading of a monologue from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” performed by Ebony Jo-Ann.

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