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Sport and theater: Vive la differenceBY: Dan Rottenberg 11.03.2009
Jim Rutter suggests that theater companies could boost their audiences as well as their relevance by integrating sport and drama. As Samuel Goldwyn famously put it, include me out.
Sport is sport, and theater is theater,
Americans are notoriously sports-crazy, Jim Rutter recently observed in BSR. (See “Theater vs. sport.”) That being the case, Jim wondered rhetorically, how come we don’t see more plays about sport? And why doesn’t some savvy producer integrate sports into drama, so as to “erase the popular notion of theater as merely a refuge for the elite”?
That got me to thinking. Americans these days are also obsessed with health care, taxes, electronic devices and indoor plumbing. So how come we aren’t inundated with dramas about medicine, accounting, computers and toilets? Why this theatrical preoccupation with sex, love, con men, tap-dancing teen gangs, chorus lines, producers, lion kings, fiddlers on roofs, angels in America, Irish leprechauns transporting pots of gold to Appalachia, and streetcars named Desire? Who even rides a streetcar any more? If Bernard Havard is really such a consummate theatrical hustler, why doesn’t the Walnut Street Theatre capture the inherent drama in Windows vs. Mac, or whole life vs. term, or LIFO vs. FIFO, or Church seats vs. Kohler?
The bathroom and the parlor
To be sure, many folks would love to see Alex Rodriguez dancing with the stars, or a softball game between the casts of Speed-The-Plow and Waiting For Godot. But as Samuel Goldwyn famously put it, include me out. Who wants to watch athletes, actors and dancers doing things they do badly rather than well?
The poet Wallace Stevens and the composer Charles Ives both led double lives as insurance executives. And aren’t you glad they didn’t write poems and music about their day jobs?
It’s like the old joke about the difference between a bathroom and a parlor. (Punchline: If you don’t know the difference, stay out of my parlor.) Sports provide a necessary refuge from the tedium of everyday life. Theater provides a necessary refuge from the mindless mass mentality of sport. Start mixing them together and you have no refuge from anything.
Ten millionaires in their underwear
The late Bob Scott was quite right to ban Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” statue from the Art Museum steps in 1990. Movie props belong in the movies. Art museums are for art.
The ‘sound mind’ theory
But you ask: What about the virtues of a sound mind in a sound body? As a former athlete who still works out daily, I heartily concur— as long as we don’t confuse the mind with the body.
One day back in the early ’60s, as my Penn football teammates were dressing for practice, a defensive back named Bob Harris remarked to me, without a hint of sarcasm or irony, “You know, this is really great. Every day we put on pads and spend 90 minutes running around a field and banging into each other. We get fresh air and terrific exercise, we work off all our aggressions— and when it’s over, we’re ready to hit the books!”
Among my teammates, Harris was widely perceived as a flake or, worse, a closet intellectual. But I’ve never encountered a better rationale for the value of sport in an educational context.
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