From Our Cohorts: Why We Go To the Theater
There are many reasons why we go to the theater: to be amused by wit, parody, and satire; to learn something new or to see something we thought we knew in a new way; to be provoked and sometimes infuriated. But why the theater, that most ancient of art forms, when we could be at home watching a movie, replete with mind-blowing special effects, on our large screen, ultra-high definition TVs? Or, alternatively, why not fritter away our time watching displays of human folly on social media under the illusion that we are somehow connecting with our fellow virtual selves?
The theater may “just” be a few actors interacting in a confined space with a few props. But those actors are real, live human beings. They are us, and it is this visceral connection that gives theater its lasting power—whether it be the political satires of Aristophanes, the historical dramas of Shakespeare, the volleys of Wildean wit, or the intellectual brilliance of Stoppard. The theater and those plays never get old.
The Arizona Theater Company is opening its 2019/20 season with a production of “The Royale” by Marco Ramirez and directed by Michael John Garcés. This is a play that captures, in both form and content, the visceral aspects of theater.
The play is about a black boxer, Jay Jackson, and his bid for the world heavyweight championship. Jay’s character is loosely based on the life of Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion. Johnson won the title in 1908 and in 1910 cemented his legacy by beating James Jeffries (the “great white hope”) in a fight in Reno, Nevada. This fight took place at the height of the Jim Crow era and was loaded with controversy and racial tensions. The play itself combines the immediacy of the theatrical experience with that most visceral and primitive of human sports, boxing. However, no physical blows are actually exchanged. The punches are emotional and they reach their climax in a confrontation between Jay and his older sister, Nina—a confrontation that reveals Jay’s motivations to fight and Nina’s anxieties over the racial turmoil that could follow from Jay’s victory.
For a few lucky members of the local community there is an additional opportunity to experience the play at a deeper level. ATC’s Artistic Director, Sean Daniels, has established the “Cohort Club”, an entity that enables a small group of local theater lovers to attend rehearsals and meet the actors and theater staff. If you love theater, see this play; and if you really love theater, apply to join the Cohort Club.