This winter, APTP Resident Director Stephanie Paul and Resident Artist Mikhail Fiksel extend their collaboration with two productions of The Royale, a play by Marco Ramirez inspired by the true story of Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight champion. The play is about one man’s quest for victory against all odds and personal demons.
Mikhail and Stephanie both made their APTP debut with Feast in 2010 and have worked on every APTP show since. Mikhail is an award-winning composer, sound designer, musician and DJ whose work can be heard at theaters throughout the country. Stephanie is a multi-disciplinary artist who creates work that lives at the intersection of dance, theater and live ensemble-based percussion.
Here, Mikhail and Stephanie offer APTP fans a look into the work they do beyond APTP.
Why is The Royale meaningful to you?
Stephanie Paul: The energy of the script by Marco Ramirez is contagious. The writing has an undeniable groove and I am fascinated with the duet between rhythm and text. Also, it is essential to tell stories of the African American experience and I am grateful to be part of the team telling this one.
Mikhail Fiksel: I’ve always been a fan of Marco Ramirez’ playwriting. His language has a true sense of rhythm and musicality. It creates such a rich world and inspires you to play in it, challenging everyone with new ways of telling human stories.
SP: Being a huge sports nerd, this play has challenged me to rethink the breaking of the color line in every sport, not just boxing. Today, it’s easy to look at the desegregation of sports through rose-colored glasses, but to truly understand the ramifications one must swap them out for a magnifying glass. Dismantling a dark and firmly rooted history of inequality is anything but easy.
How does the work you’re doing on The Royale connect with the work you do at APTP?
MF: The Royale, like all APTP work, is inherently political. Despite being a landmark development in history, the story focuses on one man’s journey and it tries to do so by engaging the audience’s imagination, to get them viscerally and emotionally involved. Our work at APTP shares the same ambitions; it is about connecting on a human level as a means of dealing with larger political and ideological questions.
What do you enjoy about collaborating with each other?
SP: Misha is both a dear friend and one of the most generous collaborators I’ve ever worked with. His talent never ceases to motivate and I owe much of my growth as an artist to him. He also laughs at my jokes which might be the biggest victory of them all.
MF: Like Marco, Steph’s relationship with rhythm is incredibly rich and inspiring, but more importantly, it is inherently human and alive. These days, I spend a lot of time with technology and equipment, so it’s refreshing and revitalizing to work with someone so alive and powerful.
What other projects have you been working on outside of APTP?
SP: Back in Chicago, we’ll work together again on another Marco Ramirez piece, Six Stories Tall. It will open at Adventure Stage Chicago and then tour to Memphis and to SUNY Purchase in New York.
MF: I recently designed Marcus Gardley’s Wonder in My Soul at Victory Gardens (Chicago). This spring, I get to revisit a few projects that I’m excited about: Lauren Yee’s play King of the Yees at Goodman Theatre (Chicago) and Center Theatre Group (LA), and then Pigpen’s The Old Man and The Old Moon at The Old Globe in San Diego.
SP: I recently choreographed two new dance pieces, one with Columbia College Chicago and the other with the Evanston Dance Ensemble. In addition, I’ll soon begin working with Chicago Dance Crash as we gear up for their next show.