1. Innocence of the outcome.
The secret is out, or most of them are anyway. The Salesman dies. Romeo gets the girl, but not in time. The sisters never get to Moscow. Blanche and Lear go mad. Godot doesn’t show up. I love and cherish these works but we all know how they end, their flavor and excitement lie in interpretation and execution. But who knows what will happen at the end of the fourth quarter of a championship game? Nobody, that’s who. And paying attention in the first half makes that surprise more delicious. It’s the most unpredictable plot line ever. Even the writers don’t know how it’ll end.
2. Threat of injury.
While we can watch actors onstage face the danger of a live audience, the threat of failure, and the vulnerabilities of emotional havoc, football players face the immediate risk of getting truly fucked up. Now, I hate to see these great athletes get hurt but I’d be lying if it wasn’t a thrill to watch them put everything they have on the line in front of us every week. In theater, even as an audience member, we often risk a broken heart. But somehow that just isn’t the same astonishment and rush of watching men literally buckle under the weight of each other.
3. We get to take a side. And cheer.
In my three-and-a-half decades on this planet, I have found only a handful of topics that can connect me quickly and completely to almost any stranger. Weather is one, but a weak example. Love and loss, stronger but so personal. Mothers. Series television shows. The experience of growing old. And FOOTBALL. It is the most prevalent common vocabulary I’ve learned since I discovered rock and roll. And it has landed me in spirited discussions, debates even, where all parties can acknowledge and respect each other’s expertise and then willfully, aggressively pursue a dissenting opinion. So satisfying.
Robert DeNiro sums up the dangers of indicating and the relief of trusting your humanity in less than a minute in this brief interview excerpt.
This transcript of Meryl Streep honoring Emma Thompson at the National Board of Review gala this year is priceless. She describes both of them as “rabid, man-eating feminists” and goes on to expound on Thompson’s razor wit, heavenly earnestness and deep access to her own tenderness. This felt like a rare window into the true values and sharp edges of two titans of the craft. Worth a read. My friend Daryle also pointed out Streep’s scarce but well-placed “fuck” in her speech, which I will recall the next time I get worried that I’m leaning towards crass. Also, and this is no small point, how invigorating to hear two female artists exchange such unabashed, intelligent praise. In an industry where the contenders far outnumber the opportunities, most notably and especially toxically for women, I cherish the evidence of two women sharing and celebrating accomplishment and integrity.
To believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men — that is genius. Speak your private latent conviction and it shall be the universal sense. For the inmost in due time becomes the outmost.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I found this quote and shared it with my solo performance students tonight. An encouragement and reminder that the personal is universal, that our vulnerabilities are what bind us to one another, that the only way to approach the biggest subjects in art and writing and theatre is through the heart. And maybe sometimes the gut.