Emma Rice, director of Kneehigh, in the Guardian'd G2 March 25th 2009, on art and sport, in view of the Cultural Olympiad:
To which i feel compelled to reply:
If Emma Rice can’t understand why people see any link between the arts and sport, it seems obvious to me that a) she has never played or competed in any sport, and b) that her engagement in her own art is clearly lacking the excitement she could feel each night her actors step on stage and perform in front of hundreds of people.
It is especially sad not to be able to see the similarities between sport and theatre; not to be able to see that the excitement of one can be found in the other; the drama, the passion, the event unfolding in front of an audience cheering and spurring you along. It is no coincidence that the word play applies so naturally to both disciplines.
Art, like sport is the response to a human impulse to pursue perfection, beauty and truth, and to constantly challenge oneself. Theatre is the art of the present moment, a space, an arena for the body to be physically engaged in performance.
Ms Rice’s view of sport being based on the notion of ‘body beautiful, body perfect’ is belittling if not offensive to sportspeople. One can only assume she is thinking of the protein-pumped ‘body-building’ culture, although – last time I checked – this was not even a sport. To think that a real sportsman trains 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, endures unimaginable pains and strains to body and soul, all for vanity, shows a complete lack of respect. If theatre actors had even a fraction of the physical discipline and training of a sportsperson, then theatre would feel much more alive, visceral, engaging and it might even begin to attract more than just your usual middle class audience.
Moreover, if Ms Rice’s work is based so profoundly on the ‘poetry of failure’, then it can only benefit by her watching Federer loose to Nadal, for example, at Wimbledon, last year. To understand sport as a series of victories is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of sport. A perfect score doesn’t exist; records are, after all, there to be broken. Sportspeople should be held up as role-models not because they win, but because they fail; and then (to quote Beckett) they try again, only to fail better.
I am the co-director of a theatre company currently in the midst of developing a play with sport as its central theme (being developed in fact, at the same theatre Rice’s company are being hosted from next month) and have found it a rich and stimulating theme, full of challenges and promise for the actor.
The Cultural Olympiad at this present moment, may appear poor in substance, but if it can incite artists to learn something from sport, to be inspired and enriched by the Olympic values, the challenges, the physical discipline, the immediacy of the action, the stories, the victories, and the failures, then it may not be a lost cause after all.