Friday, April 24, 2009


Erica Saleh, sparked by Joshua Conkel's Victory Brunch piece from last week, ruminates on the definition of 'Victory,' explores the connection between athletics and theatre, and contemplates getting a 'not everyone thinks like you' tattoo:

One of my favorite things about the brunches (right up there with drunkenly enthusiastic audiences), is seeing how differently different writers respond to a common theme. The first brunch I wrote for was the October Obama/election brunch. I wrote about that special (erm, appalling) cohort of Hilary supporters who were opting to a) abstain from voting or b) vote for McCain, rather than support Obama. I was so obsessed with the existence of these people that I got a little autistic and just assumed everyone else was equally obsessed and that the five people who had signed on to write for the brunch were going to write five versions of the same play. This of course was not at all the case, as it turns out we are all individuals with distinct thoughts and takes on the world around us. This is really a big relief every time I am reminded of it. It’s nice to at least have some illusion of autonomy. I might do well to get a small reminder tattooed on the back of my hand “not everyone thinks like you,” it would be nice to look at while typing.

Anyway, my failure to remember the fact that other people are other people led to my surprise at reading Joshua Conkel’s blog about writing for the victory brunch. I was surprised by two things: first, the fact that “victory” led him to sports instead of George W. Bush in front of a banner reading “mission accomplished”, and second, the fact that he thinks sports and writing about sports and plays about sports are boring. Actually the second thing didn’t surprise me at all. I’ve met Josh. I just really disagree with him. I think that sports are inherently and purely good theater. I have often found myself leaning forward on bleachers, or biting my nails in front of a television, and wondering what it is that makes watching sports so viscerally and emotionally engaging. There is, of course, the obvious element of suspense and spontaneity in a good sports game, and there are very clear goals and stakes which give the spectator very clear instructions about how and when to react. But I think there is something more, something about watching people become their bodies- when the body is working that hard language tends to slip away and we are reminded of the animal, life feels simple: cause and effect, winning and losing, good and bad, exist in this world. And while some may call that boring and fascist I think that it is essential and exciting. In my everyday life I don’t believe in these things, I am theoretically opposed to dichotomies. I am also hyper analytic, my experiences tend to be mitigated by language- I experience the construction of the narrative about the thing instead of experiencing the thing itself. So things that get me away from this, thing that remind me about having a body, things like sports, are endlessly fascinating to me, if I wanted to put words to it (which I do, of course I do, sports are the other).

I realize that writing about sports is more than a little antithetical to the phenomenon that I am claiming sports produce. And yet, I am currently writing a play in which football and soccer both play heavily. They are used as tools to talk about relationships, they are used as keys to characters, but they are also used as themselves- and it is the moments that they’re used as themselves that I think will be the most interesting. There is a game of catch on stage, it is a moment of simple stakes and basic action- but simple does not mean low and basic does not mean boring. Instead, these things make the audience implicit in the action. They are in on the game. They know that the point is for the ball to leave one set of hands and be caught by a second set of hands, and they are relying on the actors to perform these actions to be able to stay inside the world. The ball drops and the body becomes human, the character becomes actor. But as long as the body performs, the hands catch, the ball spirals, we get to live for a moment inside a world where things go right. We are told what success looks like and we know how to recognize it, it’s as simple as catching the ball.

I actually think that this is a function of theater without a game of catch, I think that the game of catch just calls our attention to it. Part of the experience of watching live theater is feeling the tension between the world being portrayed on stage and our knowledge that those are actors who could forget their lines, or trip over their feet, or need to sneeze; and we are audience members who could stand up and scream, or walk on stage (or need to sneeze)… the success of the stage world depends on every person in the room, the more people involved the more likely it seems that something will go wrong… and it feels like a small miracle when it doesn’t, it feels like being invincible. So I say go team, sometimes we deserve to be part of something, sometimes we don’t need to be alone inside our head. Sometimes there is victory.
If you haven't reserved your seat for the Youngblood Victory Brunch on May 3rd, you should do that right now, by either by calling 212.247.4982 x107 or by emailing


molly said...

This reminds me of a sad thing (i mean good blog.. not sad): a father and his son were throwing a basketball back and forth on a street .. I realized it is sad growing up in a city when playing basketball is really just tossing it back and forth next to a homeless person.. but yeah good blog.

joshcon80 said...

Dang, I got schooled!