by Marco Ramirez
directed by Kyle Haden
July 23 – September 10, 2022 | Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre
A knock-out drama…
Jay “The Sport” Jackson dreams of being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. But it’s 1905, and in the racially segregated world of boxing, his chances may be as good as knocked out. But when the fight of his life comes calling, Jay must face both his future and the shadow of his past. Inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, The Royale brings to explosive life the ultimate fight for a place in history.
This play contains strong language and mature content, including descriptions of self harm, racism, and racial violence.
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Marco Ramirez has had plays produced at Lincoln Center Theater, The Kennedy Center, The Humana Festival, The Old Globe (San Diego), The Bush Theatre (London), American Theater Company (Chicago), Soulpepper (Toronto) and Center Theatre Group (LA). Honors include Helen Hayes and Drama Desk nominations, the Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Playwriting Award, Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellowship, Lincoln Center’s Le Comte du Nouy Award, and TCG’s Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Marco is also a WGA and Emmy Award-nominated TV writer and producer, where his credits include Marvel’s Daredevil (Netflix), Marvel’s The Defenders (Netflix), Sons of Anarchy (FX), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), and Fear the Walking Dead (AMC).
Kyle Haden is excited to be returning to Creede, where he directed the award-winning world premiere of Hazardous Materials in 2019. Other directing credits include The Chief (Pittsburgh Public Theater), The Realness, A Brief History of America (Hangar Theatre Company), Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale (Island Shakespeare Festival) and The Tens (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville). He was a 2018 Drama League Directing Fellow, and is a member of the Drama League Directors Council. On stage, Kyle has performed at regional theaters nationwide, including the Oregon and Colorado Shakespeare Festivals, Arvada Center, Guthrie Theater, Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, as well as various theaters in New York, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Kyle is an Artistic Associate and the former Artistic Director at the Ashland New Plays Festival. He is an Assistant Professor of Acting and the Senior Associate Head at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. BA: Wake Forest University, MFA: Columbia University.
“Society was in trouble, and Jack was just being himself.”
– James Earl Jones, on Jack Johnson
Sports have been integral to my view of the world. Growing up in Pittsburgh, you don’t really have a choice. The Pirates and Penguins and Steelers (especially the Steelers!) are so ingrained in the fabric of our lives. We live and die with each play. And these games aren’t just entertainment for us. They teach us valuable lessons about who we are as people, and how we should live our lives. We’re taught from an early age that the field, or the rink, or the ring, are one of the few places in our country where true meritocracy exists. Here, it doesn’t matter where you were born, or how much money your parents had, or what color your skin was: all that matters is how you perform between the lines, or inside the ropes. Your performance proves your worth as a human being. And triumph on the field leads to fame, fortune, and immortality off of it.
In reality, I’m not sure that that’s true. I mean, maybe the shifts in our society over the years have brought us closer to that ideal today than ever before, I don’t know. But it certainly wasn’t true for Black athletes over a century ago. I know it wasn’t true for Jack Johnson.
Jack Johnson was GREAT. I’ve heard him referred to as a cross between Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. In some ways I wonder if Babe Ruth isn’t a better comparison. Like the Babe, it feels like he could fit in with today’s athletes. He had charisma and style and flair. He talked trash with the best of them. And he could back it up with his performance! Jack Johnson was an American original and deserves to be celebrated with our greatest legends of sport. Is it his fault that society wasn’t ready for his greatness, or didn’t know what to do with his brashness, his Blackness?
Marco Ramirez’s play about Jay “The Sport” Jackson gives us a peek at what obstacles Jack Johnson faced on his way to becoming the heavyweight championship of the world, and how he might have dealt with them. As we’re worked on this piece, the most fascinating thing for me is pulling back the curtain on a great athlete and letting us see him as a full human being, both flawed and fantastic. In this age of social media and cynicism it’s easy to make snap judgements, and difficult to get your arms around how complicated and contradictory human beings can be. But I think it’s what Jack Johnson would have wanted. “Just remember, whatever you write about me,” he said towards the end of his life, “that I was a man.”
We remember, Jack. We see your humanity. We celebrate your greatness. And we’re excited to tell your story.