“A blow to my head as I danced about sent my right eye popping like a jack-in-the-box and settled my dilemma. The room went red as I fell. It was a dream fall, my body languid and fastidious as to where to land, until the floor became impatient and smashed up to meet me. A moment later I came to. An hypnotic voice said FIVE emphatically. And I lay there, hazily watching a dark red spot of my own blood shaping itself into a butterfly, glistening and soaking into the soiled gray world of the canvas.”
This passage from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is from the chapter entitled, “The Royale.” This poetry, brutal and beautiful, was part of the inspiration for Marco Ramirez when he sat down to write this play.
Last summer, while our country was boiling with the events of Ferguson and reeling in the aftermath of the death of Trayvon Martin, we here at ACT were sitting down to plan our 2016 season. This led to a discussion of these incidents in an historical context as we thought about how our theatre could participate in this conversation. These events, and the continued tragedies we have experienced since then, remind us that we cannot turn our eyes away from the past if we intend to change the future. Racial injustice in our country has its roots in the one great flaw of the initial “American Experiment.” Even our founding fathers cautioned their countrymen about building a new country on the old world system of subjugation and slavery. From all corners of our modern society, the ramifications of this system continue to be felt. Its legacy is felt in our prisons, our streets, and our civic discourse. As we continue to face this legacy, it becomes increasingly clear that we must look at our past square in the face. In our own way, we hope to inspire conversation that leads to change by continuing to tell stories like the one you are about to see.
There are many poets, playwrights, and artists working toward this end. But how do you employ the artistic voice to tackle such difficult material without getting preachy? The first rule of theatre is to entertain. I find that the best way to entertain is to tell a great story in an original way. Looking at the issue of race through the lens of sports, and through the metaphor of boxing, proved not only a leap of inspired creativity, but a vehicle by which to provide an evening of theatre as dynamic, subtle, and complex as the issue itself.
Our protagonist—like many ground-breakers in sports—was thrust into the spotlight through the single-minded pursuit of excellence. He was not an activist, but by virtue of his deeds and the color of his skin he found that he came to represent the hope, the dream, and the fear that radiates from one of the deepest challenges our country continues to face. How does one person hold all of this responsibility? Through the years, many—for good or ill—are burdened with that responsibility. What would you do if this bright light were shone on you? Who would you become in that moment of intense scrutiny? What would you fight for?
Thank you for being a part of this thrilling season.
The Royale runs September 9-October 9 at ACT Theatre. Tickets and info here.