Piedmont Theatre Prepares for a Sports-Themed Show


Most young people today wouldn’t recognize the name Cassius Clay, but they would recognize his Muslim name that he began going by later in life: Muhammad Ali. In the Piedmont College Theatre’s latest production, watch the early life of “The Greatest” unfold in the Blackbox Theatre.

“And In This Corner: Cassius Clay” is a play that follows the title character from his childhood to his infamous career as a boxer. The play is told through spoken word poetry and music that details Clay’s life. There are two people playing the title role: senior Dashawn Crawford and grad student Amin Abraham-Quiles. Crawford acts out Clay’s life, while Quiles acts as the narrator, performing a lot of the spoken word in the show.

Costume designer Kaitlyn Echols (left) and director Kathy Blandin (right) looks at actor Jordan Hicks and Dashawn Crawford (left to right, center) in costume. PHOTO / CHEYANNE TURNER

“People should expect to see something that they have never seen before at Piedmont College,” said Crawford. “This is a whole different type of theatre that they haven’t really been exposed to and it’s going to be a wonderful experience for people. It’s a show within a show, because we are actually boxing onstage so we’ve been learning how to take a hit and pull punches.”

To train for the show, director Kathy Blandin had the cast attend boxing classes at Iron Beast Gym in Gainesville, with coach Stephen Flanagan. There are a few boxing matches within the show, including the infamous 1960 Olympic boxing match between Clay and Polish boxer Zigzy Pietrzykowski where Clay won his first Olympic gold medal.

“Working on Cassius Clay has been an amazing experience and unlike anything I’ve done before,” said freshman Jordan Hicks, who plays Pietrzykowski, as well as boxer Ronnie O’Keefe. “Our coach, Stephen [Hogan] has made it very easy for us to pick up the choreography and really helped us work through the kinks that have come along our way.”

“In This Corner” isn’t just about boxing, but also about the racial tensions of living in Jim Crow era Louisville, Kentucky. The play tells stories of a young Clay who faces many prejudices and racism as a young black man growing up in the 1950s.

Dashawn Crawford (left) and Jordan Hicks (right) practice boxing for the show. PHOTO / CHEYANNE TURNER

“Cassius Clay’s childhood experiences helped shape his ideas about civil rights, activism, and standing up for what you believe,” said Blandin. “At a time when our country is so politically divided, I believe it is important to tell these stories, so we never forget what such division can breed.”

Hicks described the show as more than just a play and that is has something for everyone, from sports to music to history. “And In This Corner: Cassius Clay” premieres in the Swanson Blackbox Stage on Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. The show will have two more 7:30 p.m. performances on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16. The final performance is the matinee at 2 p.m. on Feb. 17.