With two of the largest sports events in history occurring this 2014 February, The Superbowl and the Sochi Olympics, a lot has been on my mind in terms of sports, spectacle, and theatre. It’s almost impossible that this is what the Greeks envisioned, (The NFL has a dancing robot, for heaven’s sake…and did you SEE those opening ceremonies??) but so much of what we do is still based on their model. The Olympics in general, our stadiums, the performances at halftime, commercials, its beautiful that glimpses of history can be seen in our over-hyped, commercialized fanatics about men hitting each other.
Just to get the story clear, the Superbowl is maybe my favorite holiday of the year. I love the Olympics for similar reasons, but they’re on a larger scale. I understand these two are probably on different levels for many viewers. It is amazing the skill and training that goes into the Olympics. It is an honor and great achievement to compete for one’s country and (along with other reasons) an exciting honor to host the other countries. The NFL is fraught with multimillion dollar contracts, unsportsmanlike conduct, concussions and drugs. But at the very core of it all, these events were created for similar purposes and have remained a part of American and Earth’s history and culture. People gather to watch the events, cheer or boo respective teams, and at the very core of it, we are entertained. We are moved, disappointed, uplifted, inspired by the feats before us displayed in the Olympics, or interceptions in the last :10 of the game. The Olympics stand for peace between nations, competition, talent, skill, and years upon years of rigorous training. These events bring cities and nations together. They stand for friendly competition (however often they may stray from that) and are thrilling events.
So how does theatre compete with these highly advanced, showy forms of entertainment? Is it a competition at all? In a recent theatre management class, our professor, Michael Maso of the Huntington Theatre remarked that whether or not the Patriots make it to the Superbowl, the Red Sox make it to the World Series, anything in the professional Boston sports realm, negatively affects ticket sales. There is a direct correlation between mass media consumption and live theatre attendance. How can we, as theatre artists, do essentially the same things for Americans as football or the Olympics does? Bring people together, have them root for the same team, move them, inspire them? We have seen in the growth of commercial theatre that people desire similar things across forms of entertainment– spectacle, big names, good reviews. But if we take a page out of the book of mass-media sports, we learn that people are brought together in support of the underdog. We, as the upcoming generation of theatre artists, have the opportunity to bring people together around something they recognize, can relate to, can empathize with onstage. We have the opportunity to tell the underdog story. We can find someone searching for human connection and represent their story on stage. We can root together. We can take what we have learned from these giant events and analyze the very root of it all- people love good competition and people yearn for company. Because even when Russia loses in the quarterfinals of hockey, the Russians can stand proud and together at the closing ceremonies.