LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park High School junior Candace Spates taught herself to cry on stage at age 10 and even has a trademark move that involves throwing a chair.
The 17-year-old held back on the full chair toss on stage at the Goodman Theatre last week, but still ended up taking home first place in the regionals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition.
Spates was the first winner from Lincoln Park High School in the five-year history of the competition, beating out 390 students from across the city.
The victory not only landed her a $500 scholarship, but will send her on a free trip to New York City for the national finals on a Broadway stage.
Spates has never been to New York.
"I'm honestly still trying to wrap my head around it," she said.
The August Wilson Monologue Competition was founded in 2007 to introduce students to the famed playwright's "century cycle" of 10 plays that chronicle African-American life in the 20th century.
Each student performs a two-to-three-minute monologue from one of the plays.
"It's a big deal," said Robert Cornelius, the arts education director at Victory Gardens Theater who helps prepare students at Lincoln Park once a week for the contest.
Students participate in regional competitions across the country before three finalists from each round are chosen to go to New York on May 5 to perform at the August Wilson Theatre.
Cornelius brought the competition to Lincoln Park High School four years ago. Victory Gardens will be flying him to New York in May to accompany Spates in the finals.
"I'm so proud of her. I can't even believe it," Cornelius said.
Cornelius helps students pick a monologue based on their personalities and has them fill out character sheets to determine the perfect part for each student.
For Spates it was a role from "King Hedley II," a play that ran on Broadway in 2001, as a 35-year-old African-American woman who is pregnant with her second child and is struggling with family situations.
"In saying it a million, gazillion times in practice, trying to figure out how to display what you read, and eventually I got to the point just to be mad," Spates said. "Just be angry and upset."
The competition is for juniors and seniors at the high school, and of the 20 finalists citywide, four were from Lincoln Park High School.
"I think every year the profile gets a little higher for it," said Ross Frellick, a drama and English teacher at the school who has helped coach Spates.
Once in New York, the finalists will take part in a workshop, meet and learn from professionals, see a Broadway show and deliver their monologues on the big stage.
"It's Broadway. You're going to be on a Broadway stage," Spates said. "Maybe in a small crowd, maybe in a big crowd, but you are going to be able to say, 'I performed something on a Broadway stage,' and no one can take that from you."
The finals carry a scholarship prize of $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $250 for an honorable mention.
Spates, the youngest of 10 siblings, was getting constant calls from friends and relatives after winning the regional competition on March 10. They had seen her mom's Facebook post, which went up immediately after the win.
When she took the stage at the Goodman Theatre during the competition last week, Spates said she wasn't sure she would continue a career in acting.
She had been in two professional plays when she was 7 and 9, but recently has taken a liking to law.
Spates said winning the regional might be the feat that brings her back.
"It's calling me," she said. "It's like, 'Come back! Come back!"
Spates learned that trademark chair toss her freshman year at Chicago High School of the Arts, and after transferring to Lincoln Park for her sophomore year, had nearly given up acting entirely. That was before she needed to choose an elective last fall and figured she would get back into acting, which she started when she was 3.
She's moved numerous times and has attended five schools. Spates said that constant readjusting has helped with her acting.
"I've been at a point where I went to a prep school and had to wear a uniform to going to a neighborhood where you can be shot at at any moment wearing regular clothes," she said.