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Why Theatre Should Be More Like Baseball

 

Maybe not Baseball. I’m not a huge fan, but with The Chicago Cubs going into their fourth game with The Dodgers – I’ve been excited by the real life drama of all of it. It feels so visceral and alive and real. We can’t know the outcome. My favorite theater experiences have this quality too.

To drive my point home I am only giving myself 20 minutes to write this blog post. And I’m not kidding. My timer is sent to 30 and I will actually write as much as I can in those 30 minutes. For some, this may not seem like a difficult feat. For me, it’s near impossible.

Ok. Synergy Mystic Mango Kombucha in hand and here we go. 30 minutes begin…

We like sports because we really don’t know what is going to happen. The danger is real and so is the athleticism. We put exceptional athletes in extraordinary circumstances. I think we can do the same for actors.

In sports our involvement is necessary, or at least we feel that it needs to be. We feel that we can change the outcome if we scream loudly enough and hope enough and not turn away from the action.

It reminds me of that amazing moment where something goes wrong on stage and the actors need to make it right. A fake candle falls off the table or someone fumbles over a line or Milky White in Into the Woods literally falls apart onstage (have you seen that YouTube video?) It’s so much fun watching someone who is prepared to do one thing, change course and yet not lose sight of their goal. These moments show the virtuosity of the actor and also remind us that things could go wrong. There is risk here.

I also think of clowns. Not the scary ones that are popping up all of the world scaring people half to death… I HATE THIS NEW FAD. I HATE IT SO MUCH!

I think of clowning in theater. There is a really great company in Chicago called 500 Clown. They have changed their focus in recent years but when they started out they were setting up circumstances for a room to dramatically change the work that they were doing. They created pieces that had space for this. An example is 500 Clown Macbeth. A crown is suspended high above the stage and these three clowns (think child-like, goofy adults, NOT BOZO) would spend the play trying to get it. They had benchmarks and moments they would hit every night, but how they got to these moments were dramatically changed by the audience. They would have to walk out on stage without any expectations.

11minutes down… Taking a drink of Mystic Mango.

In sporting events there is also a sense of trust created between the players and the spectators. We KNOW them and know they are working hard, and we get scared when they hurt themselves. We believe they are telling us the truth the whole time.

Some of my favorite play experiences have really embraced this sense of truth. I’m not a fan of “method acting” but watching an actor actually have to deal with something real in space can be quite fascinating and moving.

In this show I took to Edinburgh, this character

13 minutes left…

…this character based on the real guy who was first to person to row across the Atlantic and then Pacific oceans was played by an actor who had not done those things. Throughout the rehearsal process we settled on having him do this rowing sequence on stage that was absolutely exhausting. It used a ton of core strength and was nearly impossible on some nights. It was quite thrilling to watch because when he had finished we all really felt a sense of accomplishment even though he hadn’t gone anywhere.

9 minutes…

I don’t know what I think about Drunk Shakespeare. I hear it’s fun and I would like to see it… I wonder if it enhances the sense of danger in the room. Does it help the audience rally around an actor who is struggling through real life circumstances? I also am not totally convinced that I want to make theater like this. The other side of this whole argument is that although I believe theater needs to be immediate, and visceral and “dangerous” I think it must also be artful and planned.

Maybe it’s enough to be listening and responding in the moment. I have seen plays where this feels dangerous, spontaneous and alive.

With 4.48 minutes left, I am left wondering how we continue to ignite this sensibility in our plays without losing the artfulness.

I’ve heard SITI Company will add games into the mix when they are performing. Actors will count, and score their breath so that they are working like musicians as well as actors. I believe they even did a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf where they spoke words from a physics textbook, but were underscoring it with subtext that was made up of all of the lines of the Albee play. I wish I had seen it…

Time.

I’m giving myself 3 minutes to spell check (you’re welcome) and am going to post this thing.

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