Monticello High School student Josh St. Hill spoke and performed in front of 50 people at the University of Virginia’s Music Library on Friday night.
St. Hill is known for writing and starring in “A King’s Story,” a play performed by the MHS drama department in October that received news coverage due to its controversial subject matter of police brutality.
St. Hill was joined by fellow MHS student Amaya Wallace, who directed “A King’s Story,” and A.D. Carson, a UVa assistant professor who teaches on Hip Hop and the Global South.
The two students took questions from Carson and audience members about the play’s creation, content and impact.
The event was part of UVa’s celebrations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the UVa Library’s Making Noise Series.
“A King’s Play” is set in Charlottesville and depicts the aftermath of a young African-American student being shot by a police officer. St. Hill plays the victim’s best friend as he navigates the world after the devastating loss.
The play also depicts the victim’s family, classmates and teachers reacting to and dealing with his death.
“We wanted to pinpoint and depict every aspect of what happens in this situation, from the smallest detail to what the media is saying, to the family, what’s happening there, to what’s happening in the classroom,” St. Hill said.
He said he consulted his teachers to find out what they might say to their students under those circumstances.
The play received criticism from conservative local media outlets that dubbed it “anti-police.” St. Hill said he wasn’t bothered by the backlash.
“It’s going to have to be real,” he said. “Everything that we put in there was raw. I didn’t want to sugarcoat anything.”
St. Hill began writing the play last April and was in the middle of working on it when the white nationalist rallies took place in Charlottesville last August.
“[The rallies] were a strange and odd and devastating coincidence,” he said.
The rallies served as a reminder to St. Hill and his peers that the issue of racial inequality addressed in “A King’s Story” continues to impact Americans.
Devastating and even deadly effects of racism are happening “all the time,” said St. Hill.
St. Hill said he was happy that his play was able to start a conversation at his school about racism. He also proudly stated that his classmates have begun watching the news and following current events more closely.
For Wallace, imagining the aftermath of a police shooting of a young African-American man was “almost too easy.”
“A King’s Story” features imagined coverage of the dramatic event by Fox News. Wallace said she spent hours watching the network in preparation for directing the play.
Carson, who recently joined UVa’s faculty after famously rapping his doctoral dissertation at Clemson University, sat between the students and enthusiastically discussed their work on the play.
He said he first heard about “A King’s Story” through Twitter.
“I started getting notifications on Twitter from Monticello High School Drama saying, ‘You need to see what’s going on at Monticello [High School],’” Carson said.
As Carson talked and rapped with St. Hill, it became obvious that the two have formed a strong connection since Carson first received those Twitter messages.
When they began performing original raps for the audience, St. Hill let Carson go first. When Carson finished, St. Hill laughed.
“How am I supposed to follow that?” St. Hill said. “I should have gone first!”
St. Hill also praised Carson’s ability to analyze racism and racial issues.
The two musicians took turns performing their work, eliciting excited applause from the audience.
St. Hill said his goal for the future is to develop his writing. He hopes to attend a Virginia Governor’s School program this summer to work on his skills as both an actor and a writer.