The acting and musical abilities of Jazmin Rhodes, a Homewood-Flossmoor High School junior, have won her the national prize in the August Wilson New Voices Monologue Competition and a nomination for best actress honors in the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards.
Rhodes won the top prize in the national competition sponsored by The League of Chicago Theatres. She received $3,000 in scholarship money and will be the contest’s spokesperson for the 2023-24 season.
Rhodes performed a monologue by the character Ruby, mother of King, from Wilson’s “King Hedley II” play set in the decaying Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 1985. In March, Rhodes was selected one of three Chicago area winners to advance to nationals. The Goodman Theatre in Chicago was the site of the national judging in late April of winners from seven regional competitions across the U.S.
H-F teacher J.R. Willard-Rose encouraged her to be part of the competition. Rhodes said she got more than the prize from her win.
“I feel like I’ve gained so many new friends, and I got to meet so many actors from around Chicago and across the country,” Rhodes said, “and I feel like I’ve gained a new appreciation for August Wilson. I’d heard of him in English classes, but I never got to appreciate the amount of impact that his work had and who he was as a person.”
Wilson’s mother was Black and his father was white. After his father abandoned the family, his mother married a Black man, and the family moved from the Hill District to the mostly white suburb of Hazelwood where they faced racial discrimination. At 15, Wilson was accused of plagiarism, so he dropped out of school and self-educated himself by spending his days reading in the public library.
Wilson would return to his old neighborhood to learn from the Black residents there. His plays depict Black life in the neighborhood.
Wilson’s 10 plays are often referred to as the American Century Cycle because each one covers a different decade from 1900s to the 1990s. It is considered a singular achievement in American theater. Two of his plays, “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” won the Pulitzer Prize. Wilson also founded Black Horizons Theatre in Pittsburgh.
After auditions, Rhodes was nominated for the Best Performer in an Actress Role award at the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards. In the final competition, Rhodes will present a selection from the recent H-F production of “Tuck Everlasting.” She had the role of the Tuck family’s mother, Mae Tuck.
The competition on May 22 at the Broadway Playhouse in the Water Tower is sponsored by Broadway in Chicago. If she is selected best actress from the 12 nominations, Rhodes will go on to compete in New York in June in national competition.
Rhodes has been on the H-F stage for several years. In the fall, she was cast in the H-F production of “Monster Songs.” Despite her numerous appearances on stage, Rhodes said there’s always some nervous jitters.
“I still have really bad stage fright,” she said. “I think over the past year or two I’ve kind of grown out of it. There’s always nervousness right before you perform, but once on stage and performing I’ve grown to love it so much more and I don’t feel as anxious about it.”
Rhodes is the daughter of Linda and Warren Rhodes of Homewood.