“The Royale” written by Marco Ramirez and directed and choreographed by Paige Hernandez will be playing at Olney Theatre at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. This will be a co-production with 1st Stage in Tyson’s Corner.
The play was inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, the first Afro-American heavyweight boxer to become world champion. Johnson won his crown in the early part of the 20th Century. Blacks had not even been allowed in to fight for the championship until then. After he won white America was not ready to accept that blacks could be physically superior to them. The championship set off attacks against Afro-American communities and individuals all over the United States. There was never another African-American championship fight with a black contender until Joe Louis fought against the Hitler-supported Max Schmeling in the late 1930s. Johnson was also personally persecuted. There were even rumors he was forced to throw his last fight or face prison time. He was arrested on the Mann Act for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes in part because most of the women he lived with, and those he married, were white. The play, “The Great White Hope” which became synonymous with James Earl Jones, who played the leading character also inspired by Johnson, is a more realistic drama. This new version of the life of the Heavy Weight Champion is more stylized and, therefore, it can be more individually interpreted by the audience. “The Royale” breaks new ground by taking us inside the fighter’s mind where the disciplined brutality of boxing reveals itself in theatrically-unforgettable bouts. At stake is more than wins or losses, but equality and survival.”
Paige Hernandez directs and choreographs “The Royale”. Ms. Hernandez is an accomplished actor, director, choreographer, librettist, producer and playwright. Her very rich bio is listed below.
PAIGE HERNANDEZ (Director/Choreographer) Previous Olney Theatre Center credits include: “The Piano Lesson’ (Choreographer), Regional Theatre: Everyman Theatre (Resident Company Member): “Proof “Director), “Queens Girl in the World” (Director), “Queens Girl in Africa” (Director), “The Importance of Being Earnest” (Cecily), “DOT” (Averie), “The Children’s Hour” (Mary Tilford), “School for Scandal” (Mariah); Woolly Mammoth Theatre: “For Black Trans Girls” at Joe’s Pub NYC (Director), “We Are Proud to Present…” (Choreographer) [Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography]; Rep Stage: “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992” (Director); The Kennedy Center: “She a Gem” (Director), “American Scrapbook “(Ensemble), “ALL THE WAY LIVE” (Herself); “Mermaids, Monsters…” (Marta Elena); University of MD: “Clove” (Director); Glimmerglass Festival: “Stomping Grounds” (Director/Librettist); Mosaic Theatre: “Queens Girl in Africa” (Director) [Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Direction]; Theatre Alliance: “Brownsville Song” (Director); Forum Theatre: “How We Got On” (Director); Theatre J: “Queens Girl in the World” (Associate Director); Michigan’s Wharton Center for the Performing Arts: “Shape of a Girl” (Braidie); “LUNGS” (W); Adventure Theatre: “Wizard of Oz” (Dorothy); Imagination Stage: “Cinderella The Remix” (Cinderella); “P.Nokio” (Graffiti Fairy); “Zomo the Rabbit” (Big Fish); “Hip Hop Anansi” (Spray); Cleveland’s Playhouse Square: “HAVANA HOP” (Yeila), Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre: “PAIGE IN FULL” (Herself); Folger Theatre: “Second Shepard’s Play” (Virgin Mary); GALA Hispanic Theatre: “Caribeana Imperial” (Sade); Keegan Theatre: “The Crucible” (Tituba) Baltimore School for the Arts: “Lysistrata” (Lysistrata) Education: Theatre and Broadcast Journalism, University of Maryland & the Baltimore School for the Arts.
I had the opportunity to interview her right before the opening of “The Royale.”
- Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am originally from Baltimore, Maryland. I’m a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts and the University of Maryland, College Park. Throughout my career, my focus has always been on theatre, dance, broadcast journalism and education. I currently reside in Capitol Heights MD with my husband Kris and dog, Mingus. I am the founder of B-FLY ENTERTAINMENT, which creates and tours shows with a multi-cultural and multi-generational focus. Through B-FLY I wear many hats including educator, playwright, choreographer, librettist, producer and more.
- Do you prefer being a dancer or a choreographer? Actor or director?
I’ve always preferred the performance side of both, but recent injuries have given me the opportunity to explore the director/choreographer side of the process. I’m fortunate to still be able to do both, and I am also SUPER appreciative of how much one role informs the other.
- Is there any play you would like to have the chance to direct in the future?
“LUNGS” by Duncan Macmillan. I took on this intricate two-hander as a performer a few years ago. I would love the opportunity to direct it. The play is about a couple’s relationship over the span of 60 years with no lights, sounds, props or set. It’s a true feast of actor ability and director vision.
- As to “The Royale,” what message do you think an Afro-American boxer in the early part of the 20th Century has for modern audiences?
Jack Johnson’s story mirrors any African-American who has ambition but is constrained by racism and other American societal systems. A lot of these systems, thoughts and beliefs are still in practice today. You can see the same adversity when you look at any of our “firsts”: Obama, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, etc. None of them had it easy, and each of them was met with an unfair share of bias. But no matter what, they knew they were destined for greatness and triumphed against all odds. I think audiences will leave this show asking, “What kind of sacrifice are you willing to make to be the first….to be the greatest”?
- Comparisons are imminent to “The Great White Hope” (both plays are based on the boxer Jack Johnson). What is the difference between the two plays? How are they the same?
Both plays have fictionalized content (for dramatic purposes) and are inspired by Jack Johnson’s undeniable determination. “The Great White Hope” looks at a larger span of Jack’s life. It also focuses more on his interracial love life, which eventually led to his downfall. While groundbreaking for many reasons, I found “TGWH” to be heavy handed and very much from the white gaze perspective.
What I love so much about “The Royale” is that it is a stylized play that relies heavily on your imagination and interpretation. It covers the moment just before the big fight and really gives insight into what Jack must have experienced psychologically. Marco Ramirez (“The Royale” playwright) uses music, rhythm and lyrical speech to capture Jack’s various passions and his ability to captivate crowds. “The Royale” focuses on a familial tie instead of a love relationship, which makes for a nuanced look at Jack’s vulnerability. I find “The Royale” to be thrilling, clever and an authentic look into one of the greatest that ever did it.
“The Royale” plays at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney, Maryland 20832 until October 27, 2019. Tickets are available online.
For information about “The Royale” and other shows on the schedule go to Olney Theatre Center website.
Thanks to Kristina Erwin for her assistance with this article.