From Our Cohorts: The Royale Day 1
Day 1, August 13th 2019
In the words of Sean Daniels, ATC’s Artistic Director, “Today is the first day of the revolution…”
The first day of rehearsals of The Royale by Marco Ramirez began with an early morning orientation session for the Cohort Club followed by the introduction of everybody involved in the play: the various ATC personnel, the cast, and the support staff, i.e. everyone from carpenters to kings.
The play is about the fictional heavyweight boxer, Jay Jackson, and his successful quest for the World Heavyweight championship fight against the reigning fictional (white) champion, Bernard Bixby (who never appears in the play itself). The story is loosely based on the historical figure Jack Johnson who became the first black World Champion by beating James Jeffries in 1910. This was at the height of the Jim Crow era and the racism of that time and our own time is the essence of the play.
I attended the “Table Work” session from 4:20pm to the end of the day. The cast read through Scene 1 and Scene 2. This was the first day that the full cast and the director, Michael John Garces, had come together as a group to read and discuss the play. In the course of the discussions of these scenes and the actors’ and director’s interpretations of the play’s characters one was also able to learn a little about the characters of the actors themselves.
One character that seems (to me, at least) a bit ambiguous is Max, Jay Jackson’s white promoter. Is he at heart a racist, or just a product of his times? Should we view him as a cynical opportunist or is he, at heart, something of a good guy willing to promote a black boxer in the Jim Crow era? The cast discussed this issue and, I suspect, his characterization will evolve during the rehearsals.
In addition to discussion of the play there was plenty of discussion about boxing itself with many insightful contributions from the boxing consultant, Michael Gutierrez. He showed video clips of boxing/sparring from his gym and gave a very graphic description of what it is like to have your nose broken in a boxing match. Boxing topics included the intense physical demands on boxers, some of the strategies used by boxers to intimidate their opponents (e.g. the ways Mohammed Ali insulted his arch-rival Joe Frazier with racist taunts), and the boxing styles and characters of famous boxers such as Ali, Frazier and Mike Tyson. Whatever the appeal of the “sweet science of boxing” might be, it’s an incredibly brutal sport. As Michael Garces pointed out: while we “play” most sports (tennis, golf, baseball, etc.), nobody “plays” boxing.
A technical note: On page 9 of the Samuel French edition of the play, Jay is introduced before his fight with “Fresh Fish” Hawkins as “…Weighing in at two-hundred-ten pounds, standing tall at six feet, three inches …”. On page 72, where Jay is introduced before his fight with Bixby, he is “…Weighing in at two-hundred-twenty pounds, standing tall at six feet, tow inches …”. Putting on ten pounds before a fight is certainly possible, but shrinking an inch would be quite a feat!
Cohort Club Member, Michael T.