Congratulations to Ta’liyah on winning a first-place award in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s annual high school arts competition!

Ta’liyah, a junior from Morgan Park, was one of two student actors who received the top prize in theatre, one of seven categories in the annual contest sponsored by the university’s College of Fine & Applied Arts.

She was recognized for performing a monologue from the film “Hidden Figures” as the late NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, originally played by Taraji P. Henson.

Created “to inspire the next generation of creative thinkers and emphasize the importance of the arts in society,” the university’s annual contest features Illinois high school students in architecture, art and design, dance, landscape architecture, music, theatre, and urban planning.

As the top non-senior actor, Ta’liyah wins a scholarship to attend one of the university’s summer arts programs; she plans to participate in the FAA Summer Intensive.


Congratulations! How do you feel about winning this award?

I feel really excited not only for being able to attend the intensive camp this summer, but also how this can help me in the future. It definitely gave me a confidence boost to continue doing what I love.

Why did you choose this scene from “Hidden Figures” as your monologue?

I chose this monologue because this scene is really emotional and Taraji P. Henson, an amazing actress, was so fluent in her character, with the pain and exhaustion she showed in that particular scene.

It was to me the climax of the movie because when her character, Katherine Johnson, explains to Mr. Harrison (played by Kevin Costner) why the lack of a “colored” bathroom keeps making her late for work, it pushed him to understand her position and to help her so that she could be more comfortable and successful at work.

Choosing this monologue was really a no-brainer for me.

Your family just moved to Chicago last year. How have you enjoyed MPA so far?

I haven’t been here that long — last September is when I started — but it was definitely different than other schools I had attended.

It’s been easier for me to get to know different people and actually understand their different perspectives. MPA has really opened my eyes to traditions and holidays I had never experienced, like Chinese New Year and Holi, a Hindu festival that celebrates the good and spreads joy.

Everyone at MPA respects everyone else, which I appreciate.

What have you learned from the MPA arts program and this year’s production of the musical “Chicago”?

The musical was amazing for me; definitely an experience. I had to memorize new ensemble lines days before the performance which was exhilarating. Learning and practicing the dance choreography, the blocking, making sure I was clear to the audience when I spoke but also to stay in character. I played the judge and some announcers and I was a clown in the “Razzle Dazzle” scene, which was fun.

Mr. Wendell was amazing as the director; he is such a creative leader and I am all here for it. He trusted me enough to give me more lines and to be honest, if I were him I would’ve done the same. Great minds think alike!

What are you looking forward to after winning a scholarship to the university’s summer arts program?

I definitely plan on going to the FAA summer intensive program. I think it will help me build myself as an actress by improving my performance skills. I hope after this experience with the coronavirus, many people will humble themselves more, spreading positivity and appreciating life. We only have one, so it’s best that we live it to the fullest.