Divide and Conquer

I’ve wanted to stay away from the C word on this blog, at least outside of practical on-set situations and discussion of how it has impacted storytelling on various shows – SUPERSTORE incorporating masks in their blue-collar cast of characters, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW creating cast bubbles and so writing fewer overlapping ventures, KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF using, perhaps, fewer directors and extras than they would have under normal circumstances – but *gestures to the world on fire* here we are!

In the last few weeks, there’ve been variations on the following going around:

I’ve talked about my love for sport as well as film, so it perhaps seems natural I’d defend sport here. The kneejerk answers – it’s played outside so decreases transmission; the stadiums weren’t “open to full capacity” either; the natural difference between theatre seating (where you are closer to see the acting and hear the words) and stadiums (where you are further and higher to see the whole of the action) make one less likely for transfer than the other; larger stadiums with locked-off sections have built-in design for distancing; masks are still mandated when not eating and drinking, same as restaurants and takeaway food; you can have that many close contacts in a KMart or Flinders Street Station etc – are all there.

Though the post I’ve seen most around is arts-on-sport, there’s been plenty of sports-on-art commentary as well. “You can just watch movies which already exist,” “theatre can come back the same when this is over,” “athletes who have a short window are seeing their careers pass them by,” etc. My frustration is with binary SPORT-vs-ART! messaging, and the fact broader government is quite happy to pit arts and sport against each other to distract from their negligent-at-best criminal-at-worst management. Through actions such as opening movie thatres and restaurants, but not small theatre venues or visiting private homes, the government shows itself to care more about revenue than art (though of course almost all industries including hospitality, and most individuals, have cause for complaint about lack of support here, too.) Instead of being upset at the broader problems, we in Sports and Arts snipe at each other. Does it help you, the people who are enjoying a different social outlet, to be railed at? Will it improve lives when those who’ve lost access to theatre to also lose access to sport?

Let’s take this as a springboard to look at the Art v Sport / Us v Them framing, and start to dismantle it.

Audra McDonald, Anne Hathaway, Raúl Esparza in TWELFTH NIGHT.
Is this particularly relevant? No.
But everyone should be reminded of this photo at least weekly.

Many people (hello! *waves*) love both sport and theatre. Some like neither. All of us would to well to remember:

the joy one gets in seeing a text reinterpreted, is akin to the joy of another seeing a player who has failed to convert all day take a flying mark.

the rush from a win may be similar to seeing a brilliantly choreographed swordfight on stage.

both sport and theatre can be marathons of physical endurance, and involve agony aand ecstacy.

the forms of drama and comedy may be different, and you may not like one, but one is not inherently better or more moral.

both have around them people and structures who are problematic and even abhorent, but neither bare bones act itself is ‘more honourable.’

though certainly the spoken word of one may discuss honour and morals and villainy and the complexity of the human condition within the two hours more than the other, both display all of the above and bring it into public for discussion.

theatre and sport both involve sacrifice, hard work, study, risk, art, and deep pain and joy of participants as well as observers.

We’d be negligent not to acknowledge the specific sort of distain which is often brought to bear on those who love sport, and yet is seemingly suspended for specific events. Were only that latitude given for all sport.

In the last few weeks, the Olympics gave us stories of individual perserverance, strong teamwork, love of athletics and others, sportsmanship, displays of fortitude phyiscal and mental. Many around the world found an Olympic games – postponed, put on with some protest, unable to be attended, controversial in many ways never seen – still managed to bring us together and show us glimpses of the best of our selves.

CHOFU, JAPAN – JULY 21, 2021: Hannah Wilkinson #17 of Team New Zealand takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as players of Team Australia stand with arms linked in solidarity, prior to the Women’s First Round Group G match between Australia and New Zealand during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Stadium. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Let’s suspend the absurdity of a purely binary view for a moment, and look at some arguments for ‘either side.’

“But actors and creators need work.” And need to be paid for it! Agreed. Meanwhile, so do athletes who’ve sacrificed much – including seeing their families the last year – to work at what they love and are good at.

“Sport is how I connect with my kids / parent / friend; when you’re watching theatre you can’t even talk.” Shared communal experiences comes in many forms, and discussing an experience after the fact is no less powerful than during.

“Sport is just people hitting each other.” Ignoring the fact there’s so much more to it tactically, there are incredible amounts of dramatic irony in sport, plenty of sporting people are activists and community leaders and can break the ice for people of marginalised backgrounds and give us role models as well as clowns . . . look plenty of theatre is also silly and bad and just people standing on a stage hitting each other with words or sticks and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, either.

“But you can just watch a movie in your own home.” And you could just rewatch the 2018 Grand Final, but you want more, because you know live entertainment which could go any direction and which the ending is still open and which you experience with a crowd provides a very different sort of energy.

“The government puts money into sport that could go into community.” Sport *is* community. It’s soccer with two hoodies piled on the ground for goals, it’s running with a friend the only contact you can have during lockdown, it’s softball teams giving parents an outlet, it’s sitting in the stands with a mate or a family member eating pie and connecting in ways you can’t otherwise, it’s harnessing your platform for protest and being a supportive ally for those who do, it’s movements for social justice from both athletes and fans. And while it’s true much of the money is allocated not into areas of sport which are communcal or even need the funding – a breakdown of budget shows sporting stadium owner the recipient of huge cash influxes which could be used to support hundreds of local creators – be mad at the government, not the fans just as locked down as you; many of whom, by the way, also love, support, and work in the arts. (Also, don’t get me started in which arts segements get government support and tax breaks and which do not.)

“But, some footballers beat their partners, and the commentators praise them to the heavens.” “But some producers sexually harrass hundreds of actors for years and continue to be showered with awards.” Lets let those speak for themselves. Plenty of horrible people in differing levels of visibility and power in both these worlds. Don’t implicate the art form itself, even if systemic structures which allow these abusers should be burned to the ground.

Certainly, pitting fans of all forms against each other hurts nobody but the fans, while distracting from the overall problems in both circles.

Nayuka is specifically talking about the lockdown protests, people who are violent at those who are trying to abide by public health orders, and and people who insist on violent, carceral responses to those protestors, so I don’t want to derail the meaning. But their words are applicable to the ‘smaller’ issues here, as well. Being mad at people who are trying to see the soccer, being angry that they can go to something they love and enjoy after many many hellish months, benefits who? Diverting anger benefits those who have spread misinformation about vaccines, who have prioritised their own wealth and courting of votes over both sports fans and theatre lovers, who have withheld assistance and money and medical access to sportgoers and theatrewatchers and arts-and-sports-agonostics equally (except for those who occupy a very specific upper echelon).

Don’t think this isn’t me not being mad. I’m fucking furious. I’ve lost thousands of dollars which will never be made up, hours of on-set experience which can never be replaced, all to a a situation which has been for some months manageable, while those with power refused to manage. I’ve seen shows holding friends together unceremoniously cancelled; I have been and know many in arts who are ineligible for most of the ‘support’ packages (particularly since the third lockdown, or was it the second?); I’ve seen Rising and standup and more called off, yanking work from under the feet of thousands with less than 48 hours notice; and I’ve already written about the incredible mental toll it’s taken and is still taking on us. I’ve managed to see only two games of my-team-playing-footy in person in the last 12 months, and only about a half dozen of any team in the last 18; activities which bring me great joy, cameraderie, and more, (and could be done safely if the government had actually given a flying fuck). I’ve seen safe, socially distanced sets shut down with a snap. I’ve seen players pushed to the breaking point after sacrificing so much, I’ve watched young talent figure out how to comport themselves in completely unusual and ever shifting circumstances. I’m furious, particularly at those who actively flaunt things demonstrably best for public health, those who insist more and harsher policing will solve a medical problem, and leadership at federal, state, and local levels who grasps at straws to distract from their negligence, harmful favouritism gross incompetence, egregious mismanagement, and failure of stewardship. One of those straws is pushing the narrative “SPORT and ART are two factions who don’t intersect and should fight each other”.

Is it easier to point fingers than to organise and rally the community? Yes. Are we all so exhausted that the easiest route is sometimes the only one we can even imagine taking right now? Also yes. But this is not the way forward, for any of us who engage in or play or watch or love, sport or art or both and more.

Turnabout being fair play:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: