Sound Design and Original Music - Theater
at: Capitol Repertory Theater
by: Marco Ramirez
directed by: Megan Sandberg-Zakian
movement: Kyle Vincent Terry
scenic design: Lawrence E Moten III
lighting design: Adam Honoré
costume design: Miranda Kau Giurleo
The Royale is the story of Jay Jackson, the “Negro World Heavyweight Boxing Champion”, and his push towards an unprecedented fight against the World Heavyweight Champ, a white man, in the early 20th century. While the story is strongly influenced by the real-world boxer Jack Johnson, playwright Marco Ramirez has created a fictionalized, time-period-bridging tale exploring racism, justice, and the complexities of responsibility to one’s self, one’s family, and one’s greater community.
While the action of the plot takes place in the first decade of the 20th century, the play itself blends period and contemporary style to create something timeless. Ramirez has discussed the hip-hop vibe of the piece and Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian explained her vision for the musicality of the show by saying that it wasn’t Scott Joplin, and it wasn’t Jay-Z, but that is should somehow be able to be both. Combining these references with a desire to track the story’s span across the full spectrum from fun and excitement to darkness and reckoning, I composed a a score for the show drawing from many influences.
In the opening cue of the show, I started squarely in a period style before landing in a fusion that keeps the period references alive while introducing a modern weight and kick.
As the story progressed, I slowly took more stylistic liberties, referencing later jazz styles. By keeping the instrumentation similar and continuing to reference period rhythms and ornamentation, the audience’s frame for the piece is slowly expanded without jarring them out of the period.
Late in the show, as a stronger sense of weight and reckoning came to the forefront, I leaned more heavily into modern style, but still preserved the vestiges of period instrumentation and motifs. The opening drums are inspired by the flowing yet sharp rhythms of boxing - a great help was participating in movement choreographer Kyle Vincent Terry’s boxing warm up with the cast!
The sounds of the World
Other than transition music, the rest of the sounds of the show are actor driven. Ramirez has written a beautiful sense of music and rhythm into the script. A live, ringside bell is used. Claps and exclamations from the ensemble are written into the rhythm of the text. And the boxing in the show is abstracted through clever and beautiful movement work where both boxers face out to the audience and stomps on the raised scenic platform stand in for punches.
I supported this aspect of the show in various ways while preserving the feeling of these sounds as being 100% actor driven. I placed boundary microphones under the scenic platform routed to subwoofers under the audience for each of the stomps. I used an overhead microphone during ring announcement moments to subtly add the reveberance of an arena to the theater. And during a moment when time slows to a stand-still, I created an abstract cue from a recording of the live ringside bell. Played along with the actual bell being struck live by an actor, the cue at first seems to indefinitely sustain the ring of the bell before evolving into a richer abstract soundscape.