The FAMU Essential Theatre shined the spotlight on one of its alumni and a Tallahassee native, during its recent presentation of “Sugar Ray.” The play, which was written by playwright Laurence Holder captures the spirit and power of the legendary boxer brought to life by Reginald Wilson. Wilson’s solo performance illuminates Robinson’s entry into the boxing ring through his professional championships and defeats. In the Q&A below with FAMU’s Kimberly Harding, she says he is excited about returning home to FAMU where his artistic career began.
Q: You are a graduate of Florida A&M University. What did you do upon receiving your Bachelor of Arts in Theatre?
A: In August 2008, I started graduate school at the University of Florida (UF) ten days after graduating from FAMU. During my last semester at UF, I went on an internship with the legendary African American theatre producer/director Woodie King Jr., at his New Federal Theatre in New York City. After I received my Master of Fine Arts, I knew that’s where I wanted to be, you know, to work in New York City.
Q: And that you did. You performed “Sugar Ray” in NYC to great acclaim, and your performance earned you a prestigious theatre award—the Audience Development Committee (AUDELCO) Award. What was that experience like?
A: This was my third AUDELECO win; however, this one was most shocking. I did not think I would win. I won for “Best Solo Performance,” and the competition was tough! I had both men and women in my category, and I thought the categories would be separated. I hadn’t even prepared an acceptance speech. So, when I won, all I could do was laugh from the shock.
Q: I know that you started Faith Steps Productions—your own theater company some years ago, which was also a producer of the NYC production of “Sugar Ray.” What was it about the play or the man himself that inspired you to tell his story?
A: Faith Steps Production produced the NYC production along with Bernard Rubie, who owns the restaurant, Harlem Besame, the site of the original production. The play came about after having a meeting with Mr. Rubie about producing me in a play. I had been working as the manager for Harlem Besame for special events and bar supervision. After increasing the clientele at the restaurant, Mr. Rubie felt it was time for me to take my career to the next level. The two of us sat and talked and he asked me what I needed to get something going. I said, “Woodie King Jr.” He told me to contact him, so I did.
We organized a meeting at the restaurant to discuss the possibility of him directing me in a play called “Home” by Samm Art Williams. While meeting, Woodie saw an enlarged picture of Sugar Ray Robinson on the restaurant’s wall. He mentioned the striking resemblance I had to the boxer. Mr. Rubie shared with him that Harlem Besame was in the same building as the original Sugar Ray Enterprises. The idea for the one man show instantly blossomed. Woodie told me he had a script written by Laurence Holder and asked me to read it. I returned to the restaurant that same night and picked up the script. Four weeks later, the show opened.
Q: Having started your training here, what’s it like to return to the Essential Theatre to perform “Sugar Ray” as a professional actor?
A: This is a dream come true. My family and biggest support group is in Tallahassee. I was FAMU’s mascot! I got to know a lot of people. I have always been around the theatre program for as long as I can remember. I recall seeing “The Wiz” when I was a child, and I knew then what I wanted to do as an adult. Working with Mr. Wells again is also breath taking. He has directed me in more shows than anyone else, and I couldn’t have asked for a better interpreter of the script. His vision is incomparable!