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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

How I Learnt to Stop Worrying & Love the Game

Sport and theatre are completely different activities for completely different people.

This is what high school teaches us. This stereotype, in the space of five short years, will be constructed and stubbornly embedded in the minds of many impressionable students. It’s easy to see how. At secondary school, sport and theatre are operationally, departmentally and idealistically separated and constantly at war for time, space and funding. They have their own distinct rites, rituals and hierarchies and, perhaps most importantly, they provide a distinct facet of identity for students wanting to carve a niche into the faceless enterprise of their school.

But must our high school prejudices continue? Let us examine some similarities and see if we can reconcile sport and theatre, if only for a minute.

Firstly, they both take place in theatres; be it nice, cosy, playhouses with red velvet seats and a dignified air of intellectuality; or noisy, sticky stadiums with plastic seats and an inebriated air of latent tribal ritualism. These arenas are fundamentally similar—theatres designed to allow many spectators view the activities of fewer performers. And there, already, is a second point of overlap. Call them athletes or actors, both are performers in their own right. We go to see them because they have a set of highly developed skills which make them entertaining, impressive and stimulating to watch.

Furthermore, no longer are sport and theatre mutually exclusive. The raw, unscripted, improvisatory appeal of sport has found its way onto the stage in the form of theatresports. Similarly, grandiose theatrical spectacles supplement sporting events at the open and close of each Olympics. Theatrical events of a spectacular, un-cerebral nature occur during half time at rugby matches for the sole purpose of keeping the crowd entertained: Fireworks displays represent theatre at its most primitive, with mindless, mechanised “actors” performing to stimulate the (mostly male) crowd’s basic senses. The same is true of cheerleaders.

This raises a point which must not be overlooked: sport and theatre are both forms of entertainment. Regardless of the differences between their respective demographics – however chasmic the advancement in cultural awareness between the dramatically enlightened and the plebeian rugby-going masses—if we didn’t derive some basic enjoyment from sport or theatre, neither would exist.

Of course, none of this matters. I can already hear the disapproving snorts of the theatrical intelligentsia. “He compares oranges and apples!” they cry from behind fluffed cravats. “Theatre is more than mere entertainment! It’s ART! It has meaning.” I will concede this point. Most theatre seeks to teach its audience, or lead it in the exploration of ideas. Sport does not. It is not, in this sense, Art. But this doesn’t mean it lacks substance or meaning. The meaning in sport is created by the community which envelops it. Take the All Blacks for example. For many, they represent national unity, strength, pride, prowess and diversity. In 1981, a single rugby tour sparked a massive upheaval among the general population, as ideologies clashed and Joe Average was forced to re-evaluate his ethics and morals. Take off the cravats, gentlemen—theatre wishes it was that influential.

With the advent of film, theatre practitioners have been forced to examine what specifically makes live performance special. Constantly spouted from the pulpits of lecturers, directors and theorists are ideas about theatre’s ability to foster community among an active audience. If we are to give these credence—and I think we should—it may be helpful to, once and a while, cast down our eyes to the world of sport. There is a community unparalleled in devotion, passion and active participation. Accessibility and community are key. One day The Lord Roger Hall will perish, as will his flock. If New Zealand theatre is to survive it must challenge its ideologies and think long and hard about what community really means.


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  1. Buffie says:

    Stellar work there eervyone. I’ll keep on reading.

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