African American Studies Students Attend The Royale


arizona theatre company

Gabby Jamerson and Winta Tekle

On Tuesday, September 24, Sahuaro’s African American Literature class accompanied by Mr.Robinson visited the Arizona Theatre Company to see The Royale.  It was in 1960 that James Baldwin said, “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.” 50 years prior and Jay Johnson has echoed that same narrative. 

The Royale, by Marco Ramirez, tells the story of Jay Johnson, a black boxer in the early 20th century. The play opens up with Jay and his opponent, Fish, fighting. The two fighters stand apart on opposite ends of the ring and face the audience. They shadowbox to the actors, clapping and stomping synchronized to the punches thrown and the blows delivered. 

Jay Johnson’s character is inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, who became the first black heavyweight champion. The weight of this achievement is monumental, knowing that he accomplished this all during Jim Crow. His success as a black man, however, was threatening towards white people, and in exchange, set a whole host of problems for him and his family. In The Royale, Nina, his sister and the voice of questioning, sheds a light on the weight that Jay is carrying, for him and his family. The ending scene ends with tragedy, which posed the question as to whether success is worth the repercussions it comes with.

After the play, the actors took some time to answer some questions. When asked of the challenges that came with the play, Roberto Martin answered, “Some challenges as an actor is getting in your head or judgement, some things that helped me is letting go and meditation. It (the play) took a lot of imagination and practice.” Edwin Gibson, who plays the trainer for Jay, added, “I concentrate on listening every time for the first time. Every night is the first time my character says those words.”

The African American Culturally Relevant Literature classes attended this play, and left feeling very impressed. Junior Dezane Jones states, “The play was enticing and well produced.” Another student Olivia Petersen said,” It made me think more about how whatever a black person does who is influential, there will be people trying to bring you down so you have to keep fighting.” Mr. Robinson stated,”An actor that had previously visited Sahuaro said that if the theater doesn’t attract a different audience it’ll die, so I felt it’s important to introduce students to theater and characters like Jack Johnson.”