‘The Royale’ Is Here
The Multi-Award-Winning Play Comes To UHD
By Sheryl E. Taylor
The Greek God of theater Dionysus is smiling upon the O’Kane Theatre this spring performance season.
Scoring the hottest ticket in the nation was a major coup according to Tim Klein, Director of O’Kane Theatre and Associate Professor of Drama. “We were really surprised that we were able to secure the rights to produce this play … it’s one of the most famous productions in the country right now.”
The play is written by Marco Ramirez, one of the writers for the hit TV show “Orange Is The New Black.” Interestingly, the audience shouldn’t expect to see actual boxing. “There’s a lot of dynamic movement in the show that is based in African stomp dancing,” said Luke Fedell, Lecturer of Theater & Acting. “You won’t see boxers square off to box. Instead, you see more of their stream of consciousness with a continual rhythm and a beat the entire time. Punches are portrayed with choreographed interpretative stomps … using the body to make sounds.”
At the turn of the 20th century, the country and the professional boxing ring are segregated. Jay Jackson – a Black man living at the height of the Jim Crow era – dreams of becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. To achieve his dream, he will have to get the reigning champion, a white man, to step into the ring with him. Loosely based on true events from the life of Native Texan Jack Johnson, nicknamed “The Galveston Giant,” the play captures the sights, sounds, and struggles as Jackson uses his platform as a professional athlete to effect change as he fights for freedom and recognition inside and outside the ring.
“This production invites us to experience the history of African-American athletes … these great heroes who were able to break through the constant barriers that were placed in front of them. It was because of their tenacity and almost stubbornness to not accept ‘this is just the way things are,’ emphasized UHD Alum Fedell. “For us to understand our own history, we must be able to teach our students to dream with their eyes open and that means understanding the historic figures who brought us this far.”
According to Fedell, “The Royale” is timely and relevant and very different from previous O’Kane Theatre productions. “In a word, ‘spectacle,’” he said. “When people walk into our humble theater, ‘spectacle’ is possibly the last word that will come to mind. To simulate the opulence and the spectacular experience of a big boxing match (think Las Vegas bouts), we had to pull out all the tricks of the trade.”
When asked what he hopes will be a major takeaway for the audience, he said, “Empathy is a powerful gift ... it’s my favorite part of storytelling. This play tells the story of Jack Johnson in an almost folkloric way, and in that, it asks us to recognize the culture and rights of others and that having a dream is common for all. It can make our adjustments to a much more equitable world an easier and more creative process. Empathy can provide the vessel to help navigate these sometimes harsh waters and connect people across our country.”
“The Royale” Performances
To purchase tickets to “The Royale,” visit online.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.