MTSU Theatre delivers Royale punch with knockout new play

MTSU junior Devin Bowles of Jackson, Tenn., gets into character as boxer Jay “The Sport” Jackson during rehearsals for the MTSU Theatre production of “The Royale,” set Oct. 11-13 and Oct. 17-21 in the Anderson Studio Theatre. Looking on is director KT Turner, a Murfreesboro senior, while freshman Jamil Parrish of Nashville, who portrays Fish, Jackson’s sparring partner, walks around the boxing “ring.” Tickets are available at www.mtsuarts.com. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)

Local audiences can have a ringside seat to the first production in MTSU Theatre’s 2018-19 season when the acclaimed new play The Royale rumbles into the Anderson Studio this weekend.

Helmed by senior K.T. Turner of Murfreesboro, who spent part of her summer in an exclusive Kennedy Center theater training program for student directors, The Royale focuses on events in the life of boxer Jay ‘The Sport’ Jackson, a gifted heavyweight prizefighter and ‘Black bringer of retribution’ inspired by real-life pugilist Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion.

Curtain times for Friday and Saturday are 7:30 pm, with a 2 pm matinee Sunday, Oct. 21. Advance tickets, available now at <www.mtsuarts.com>, are $5 general admission. MTSU students will be admitted free with a current ID.

Seating is limited to 80 people in the Anderson Studio Theatre, located next door to the Tucker Theatre in Room 101 inside the Boutwell Dramatic Arts Auditorium, so get tickets early. The theater is fully accessible for people with disabilities, including those with hearing, vision and mobility impairments.

The Royale, Broadway playwright Marco Ramirez’s 2013 creation, brings Jim Crow America back to life, depicting boxer Jackson’s determination to prove himself equal to his White counterpart in the ring and in the world of 1905. A crooked promoter wants to bring the men together for “the fight of the century,” creating a battle both physical and emotional for Jackson.

“This show is rhythmic, powerful, relevant, and moving in more ways than one,” said Turner, who’s working on her second bachelor’s degree, this one in theater, at MTSU after earning an undergrad degree in biological sciences at Southeastern Louisiana University three years ago.

The Royale, which is based off a true story, is truly unlike anything seen in recent years at MTSU. Because the show is about boxing, we’ve gone to Total Fitness Kickboxing for a little hands-on character development in addition to our regular workouts during rehearsals. After the first field trip, I could see a distinct difference in the demeanor of my boxers. I can’t wait to show everyone how hard they’ve been working.”

Devin Bowles, a Jackson, Tennessee, native and MTSU junior theatre major, is returning to the stage in The Royale title role. Most recently seen in MTSU’s acclaimed productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Theseus and as Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he says his years as an athlete have helped him dive into his character.

“One, if not the biggest, challenge is delivering the charisma of Jay Jackson while maintaining the endurance of being a boxing legend,” he said. “It takes patience and control to land those punches while delivering monologues and staying true to character.

“I’d describe this process so far of The Royale to be very thrill-rushing and exciting. It differs from past my projects due to the level of physical activity that it requires.”

His fellow theatre major, senior Matthew Bailey of Nashville, adds that Turner’s preparation for the cast and crew has been anything but typical, and they’ve loved it. Bailey is portraying Max, a fight promoter and referee, in this show, and says he’s been researching the author, the historical period and the character to more fully inhabit the role.

“Rehearsals have been nothing but fun,” Bailey said. “It’s become more than just a typical ‘sing, dance, stand here, say lines, repeat.’ There has been true organic exploration of the history, text, space, and one’s body, in a way that I have not had on a show before. We laugh together, sing the ‘Halo’ theme song or ‘Happy Birthday’ together and eat doughnuts together.

“From the table read to documentary view, from kickboxing to blocking, this has been the most all-encompassing fun show that I’ve had the privilege to work.”

The Royale cast also features newly transferred senior Brandon Phillips of Knoxville as Wynton, Jackson’s trainer; sophomore Katlyn Marion of Murfreesboro as Jackson’s sister, Nina; and freshman Jamil Parrish of Nashville as Fish, Jackson’s young sparring partner. Junior Morgan Marshall of Madisonville, Tennessee, is making her MTSU Theatre debut as the Ensemble. All are theatre majors.

“This cast is fantastic,” said director Turner. “They have such incredible energy, talent, and a hunger just to know more about their characters and their craft. I can’t wait to watch them blossom and find those intimate moments with their characters.”

Tickets also will be available at the Tucker Theatre box office one hour before curtain times. For more information about the show, visit <www.mtsuarts.com>.

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