TR4: “Make Your Mark”

“And now, the fight you came for…”

Max, The Royale

Purley “Fresh Fish” Hawkins aka Fish’s words really spoke to me. Make your mark. It makes us question: What often motivates us, and what are our goals as human beings?

Living with epilepsy, it can be so hard to live a normal life – to drive our car, to have a 9 to 5 job to help my family’s livelihood, and even to have more children. My health has kept me from true happiness, however opportunities have allowed me to live my dreams. Seeing my pessimism and depression, my husband has chosen time, effort, and even where we live to make my dreams come true – a campus rebbetzin, an ATC Cohort, an amateur visual artist, and a childhood book author. These are recent opportunities that can given me the possibility to “make [my] mark”.

Jack Johnson, the original African-American heavyweight champion of the world, made his mark the professional boxing world by making it more theatrical and interactive by having a comedic and fun relationship with his audience. My Uber driver Paul even knew Jack Johnson as a famous boxer! In the play The Royale, Jay “The Sport” Jackson speaks with the audience – flirts with the women, entertains the people, breaks the fourth wall (during round four), and has an internal dialogue about the “front row”. Jay’s trainer Wynton wanted to know why Jay was focusing on the audience over his career: “you won this audience, you forgot to fight”. Max says that Jay’s face can be seen in every newspaper every week, “a colored man once a week on page 5”. Of course, Jay wonders why he can’t be seen on the front page as he has had seventy-six boxing wins between San Diego and New York City.

Fish made his mark when he was in his first “professional” fight with Jay “The Sport” Jackson. He achieved his dreams without professionl boxing experience in a Mississippi naval yard as a “rope man” and without his own trainer. After the fight, Jay evaluated that Fish “ain’t half bad” since no one had “made Round Seven with The Sport”, and then he chose Fish to be his sparring partner!

Boxing promoter Max’s mark is his creating “the fight of the decade”, negro heavyweight champion Jay against the prior heavyweight champion of the (i.e. white) world Bernard “The Champ” Bixby. Furthermore, “I should remind you that I am…great at my job and that you will not anyone as dedicated to you, to the sport, or to the pursuit of sport in general.” This is his dream.

ATC’s production of The Royale Director Michael John Garcès is truly a visionary and he sees the “big picture” of the play. However, his unique directorial stylization makes his mark as he focuses on a positive and respectful relationship with his actors as a friend and leader. His own acting experience gives his cast a space for them to repeat and match him with intensity. With a committed and inspiring vision, he also clears pathways for ideas and uses confidence in his team for an ultimate reality. Secondly, two out of four rehearsals that I have observed, Garcès has worn a “Lifeisliving.org” shirt that supports http://youthspeaks.org/lifeisliving/, which is a nonprofit that promotes diverse and under-resourced communities, green action agencies, and the contemporary art world.

The assistant director job has a variety of tasks that is needed for the certain production. China in The Royale watches the essential details of the ensemble’s rhythm (i.e. HA and CLAP). Last season, Jasmine Roth worked for The Music Man, because of her experience with musicals. Anna Jennings was the assistant director for ATC last season’s American Mariachi as she was getting her Master’s degree in Dramaturgy. During the entire year before the show, she already worked on and researched the play.

I believe that ATC’s The Royale will make its “mark” with its team, including its ensemble, artists, and creators, and it will make a smashing hit (i.e. punch) in the world of professional theatre.

Arizona Theatre Company

Tucson: Sept. 13-28 Phoenix: Oct. 3-20

TR3: “Here We Go!”

“See the world changing around him, forwards is backwards.”

Nina, The Royale

We see that our country has become so divided: blacks versus whites, Republicans versus Democrats, anti-semitism and anti-Zionism versus supporters.

The director Michael Garces has now staged The Royale from scene from one to six. Our negro Heavyweight Champion of the World, Jay “The Sport” Jackson, has the fight of his life with Heavyweight Champion of the World, Bernard “The Champion” Bixby. It is “a fight the likes of which you will never see…not in your’s or your children’s lifetimes…the clash of titans, this exquisite collision of trains, a boxing match of gargantuan proportions, battle of the elements, of water and fire, a contest two-hundred years in the making…the greatest wars were fought on battlefields by the thousands, but tonight we watch one bout”. The boxing ring is surrounded by a crazed group of people who hate Jay because his black color is a symbol of change.

During scene 6, the relationship between the siblings Jay and Nina is most powerful: “Tell them why you want this, [why you are working so hard].” “Every punch I ever threw, every punch I ever took [was for you]”. We finally learn why Jay to became a boxer and the motivation for every fight. His sister. She always wanted to be like the white women that were on the posters. She didn’t want to be herself, and she paid for it literally with “blood”, sweat, and tears.

I desire to know where the entire play is being held: Where are we? Everywhere. Change is everywhere. Violence is everywhere. Jay isn’t fully aware of the floodgates that are about to open, if he wins.

Jay is the only one that is alone in this fight.

Arizona Theatre Company

Tucson: Sept. 13-28 Phoenix: Oct. 3-20

TR2: “Running Out of Sparring Partners”

“Oh, I never took no pleasure fighting one color over another. I’ll fight anything you put in front of me. Black, white, red or green…Long as they come in the ring, they comin’ out purple.”

– Jay and Wynton, The Royale

ROUND ONE (Actors): Today their boxing consultant Michael Gutierrez comes and I even bring my own boxing gloves! Bechir Sylvain (Jay) and Roberto Antonio Martin’s (Fish) arms, shoulders, and very core are on fire after striking the punching and speed bags. Even, I feel Sylvain shake the entire room. “Jay is always the offensive and the aggressor”, says Gutierrez. As sparring partners, they create a choreography that becomes raw and rare each time. Rhythm, focus, grunt, human, jump, jab. “That’s the boxing dream,” says Martin. As a very non-professional former actor, I LOVEEE learning about the actors, their process, their relationship with their character. Edwin Lee Gibson who plays Wynton voluntarily introduces himself to me, and he graciously shares his acting mandate – each nightly performance is a new story and this is the first time that this character has said these lines. Just as Wynton is a Jedi master to Jay, Edwin watches every rehearsal, every video, every scene work note for Sylvain.

ROUND TWO (Director): We all look up to Michael Garcés – the cast, the artists, the directors, the cohorts. Edwin (Wynton) tells me that a 24-year friendship influenced Garcés to bring him out here from Paris and he calls him “my brother”. Sean Daniels, ATC’s Artistic Director, said that of Garcés that “there is no other person if he didn’t care so much about building community and working with the under-represented organizations…there is no one that is more talented.” I note that his stylization is as a sparring partner, friend, brother, and leader. He helps his actors, fresh to seasoned. He utilizes constant positive feedback and makes clear directorial choices.

ONE MORE ROUND (Scene work): Teamwork is the director, the ensemble, and the boxing consultant seeing each other as creators. I find that rhythm is another character. It glues everyone together: CLAP, music and jazz. The claps for each of Fish’s jabs in the beginning of scene three give me goosebumps. I note both that Max (“shark”) and Jay (“ostentatious”) love the limelight, but only with a deeper character study. As Max does a loud, rambunctious press conference for the fame as a career promoter, Jay’s public presence is meant to make a change in a post-Jim Crow world. A flood of racist remarks envelope the negro Heavyweight champion Jay about his impending fight with the Heavyweight champion of “the White world” Bixby (“Why is it you think that coloreds have taken to boxing…a predilection for fighting…more primal, aggressive behavior”, “Were you born in a barn?”, “Won’t you take added pleasure in fighting a white man?”). He will find support in his challenger and colleague Fish, his sister and conscience Nina, and trainer and mentor Wynton.

Head up. Fists up. Watch the knees. Go sharp, stay sharp. Build a rhythm, keep a rhythm. Breathe.

Arizona Theatre Company

Tucson: Sept. 13-28 Phoenix: Oct. 3-20

TR1: “Day One of the Revolution”

“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

Introduction

I am so grateful to be part of Arizona Theatre Company 2019-2020 Cohorts in Tucson.

ATC will open their doors to provide unprecedented access to their artistic process. I read the scripts before the first rehearsals. All rehearsals, I will have the opportunity to have one-on-one time with actors and artists. I will be introduced to the lighting, sound, sets, and costumes in technical rehearsals. I will have exclusive invitations to special ATC events and tickets to all preview performances. As a vital part of the ATC family, I will get to follow productions from the first rehearsal through opening night, AND YOU WILL BE THERE EVERY STEP OF THE WAY!

Come along for the ride, and I hope to meet you at a future Arizona Theatre Company production!

First off, I am so excited to meet the ATC’s artistic director, Sean Daniels, as an aspiring theatre director myself.

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