“But when you go into that ring, son, you go alone.”– Wynton, The Royale
Jay “The Sport” Jackson dreams of being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but this is the beginning of the 1900’s where our characters live in a Jim Crow reality. His dream is good as knocked out until a crooked boxing promoter Max hatches a plan for “the fight of the century” with the reigning white heavyweight champion. The Royale is not just another sports play; it is a pack-punching drama with not a single punch being thrown. It explores one man’s desire for glory but as Jay makes it his personal mission to make a real change in a racially segregated world, he isn’t aware of the violent and crazed flood gates that he might open with his actions.
The Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) has a new Cohort club for its next theatrical season 2019-2020. The cohorts start with us introducing ourselves: some professionals, some teachers, some dramaturges, all theatre-lovers. Director of Artistic Engagement Will Rogers tells us that there will be three different directors for the three different productions of ATC’s first part of the season – The Royale, Silent Sky, and Cabaret – and we will have the opportunity to compare the differences in their directorial stylization.
Our job as a cohort is to observe, and nothing more. The artists are the visionaries who bring the story to life, and we document their process. We see behind the curtain, and we share the artistic process with our Arizona community.
The cohorts have a tour of the Arizona Theatre Company, including its stage built in 1922, front stage, back stage, dressing rooms, green room (where the actors were originally paid), the fly system, “cyc” (short for cyclorama), “legs”, and the “trap”. My first experience with the “trap” door was one of genuine terror when I saw the ATC’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank last season. When the Nazi officers came up under the stage, they invaded the characters’ attic and my personal space that had been established after two hours of the play. The current play will be using the “trap” to keep important scenery under the stage.
After an introductory tour of the magnificent theatre, the cohorts join a meet and greet with the full cast, directors, artists, marketers, philanthropists, and everyone who help to bring the ATC productions to life. My first thought is “Oh my god, I am starstruck!”. The marvelous Artistic Director Sean Daniels tells us that “today is day one of the revolution” of this play. Daniels shares beautiful words about the play, its playwright Marco Ramirez, its themes that are highly relevant to our present-day. It was a “no-brainer” to be a part of The Royale. Director Michael John Garcés imparts upon us the symbolic layers to his vision about the “unbearable intimacy of violence” in the play, and how the modernity of a historic play can reach out to BlackLivesMatter and other current movements that fight racism, inequality, and divisiveness in a fractured world.
This is the first read-through of script together, and the cast is four males and one female: Bechir Sylvain plays Jay “The Sport” Jackson, a callous, “ostentatious”, and heartfelt character who wants to make a difference in a racially charged background as the negro heavyweight champion of the world. Wearing a backwards cap that says “I like kickboxing”, Roberto Antonio Martin plays Jay’s young challenger and eventual colleague, Fish. Peter Howard plays Max who is the white, dishonest boxer promoter. Edwin Lee Gibson plays Jay’s trainer Wynton with commanding and mature guidance. Jay’s older sister Nina played by Erica Chamblee is a quick-witted and a visionary character with lines like “Ain’t nobody appoint a spokesperson for ‘Color People Incorporated’” and “Some day, you’ll learn to love things outside of yourself”. I note the silent intensity in the room and the artists respect for each other.
You need to see ATC’s meaningful and intense production of The Royale, including the actors, the scenery, the direction, and the vision. Two weeks to go!
Arizona Theatre Company
Tucson: Sept. 13-28 Phoenix: Oct. 3-20