by Stephen Sachs
In theatre and baseball, nothing beats watching a well-made play.
Right now, the Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball. Burning up the National League West, nearly 10 games ahead in first place and streaking toward the playoffs with only 30 games left to play. They’ve achieved an astounding turnaround since the season began. Only two months ago in June, they were in last place. Then a miracle happened. Transformation. They now have the best record in baseball since the All Star break. LA fans are elated, fired up. Dodger Stadium is selling out, the stands filling up with folk eager to watch, share and be part of this thrilling live event. Feverish with the same zeal of rushing to see a hit Broadway show. Why?
Sure, everyone loves a winner. But if the Dodgers had leapt into first place from day one of the season our delirium today would be far less electric. Winning would become expected and, as all good playwrights know, giving the audience what’s expected kills drama. The Dodgers story this season is dramatic because they began the year so badly. Their story has what playwrights call dramatic arc.
In crafting a well-made play, the playwright shapes the story so that the protagonist (lead character) undergoes dramatic change: the character begins the journey one way and then, by overcoming a series of trials and obstacles, ends the play fundamentally different in some way. Opposite from how he began. Like, say, beginning as a bad team in last place and then winning the pennant in first place at the end. Just saying.
Part of the joy of watching baseball is the relief of losing yourself in something that has nothing to do with whatever it is you do in real life. Even so, one can’t help see similarities between baseball and professional theatre.
- In both theatre and baseball, the crowd gathers together in a common place to engage in a live, shared dramatic experience.
- A baseball game and a stage play both have a beginning, middle and end building toward a final resolution in which the dramatic question “who will win?” is ultimately answered.
- A stage play and a baseball game are driven by the same engine: conflict. Both have good guys and bad guys, heroes and enemies, humor, action, spectacle, courageous deeds and foolish gaffes, turns of direction and a climax resulting in either a sad or happy ending.
- Both theatre and baseball require teamwork and collaboration. We focus on the players in front of us but there is a huge staff of unseen professionals behind the scenes who make the whole experience possible.
- Theatre and baseball require years of training and a tremendous amount of practice. Contrary though it may seem, on the field and on the stage, repetitive drilling frees the player so he can let go and perform spontaneously, alive in the moment.
- A baseball team, like a cast of actors on stage, are both an ensemble who not only play well together but must also rely on the skill of lead players.
- Theatre and baseball are romantic. We idolize our favorite stars on stage and on the field. We swap stories about our favorite memories, spin yarns, follow careers of favorite players, share legends, recall highlights and laugh (or agonize) over famous flops.
- Stage plays and baseball games are made of specific moments. A great baseball game and a powerful play can each have the power to contain that one unforgettable moment — that one crystalized instant of perfect artistry, of joyous elation or agonizing heartbreak that sears itself into your soul forever. You remember it, that baseball play or that moment on stage, for the rest of your life.
In baseball and theatre, we lose ourselves in the live dramatic event that is unfolding in front of us in real-time. We watch the struggle of other human beings engaged in dramatic conflict and care deeply about their outcome. Who will perish? Who survive?
Both theatre and baseball are a living, breathing experience that is only meaningful with audience interaction. Other human beings.
After watching a thrilling baseball game or seeing an unforgettable stage play, we exit the ballpark or theater and walk to our car or the subway with the same giddy elation. We’re wrung out, exhausted. And stirred up, juices flowing, exhilarated. We can’t stop yakking about the miracle we’ve just seen. Or we are heartbroken and grow quiet and sullen and can’t speak. Then there are those times, after seeing a great baseball game or an extraordinary piece of theatre, when we can not move. At all. The game or stage play is over. We sit in our seat. Paralyzed. Staring at the empty field or stage. Marveling at what we’ve just lived through.
Lived through. We have just shared in a meaningful live experience with other human beings. We are alive.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.