If you’re like me, someone deeply committed to the arts – in practice, in education, in media coverage, in every aspect of life – you’ve probably had the same fantasy I’ve had over the years. What, I often wonder, would the scenario for the arts be like if they had the same attention and resources as those afforded to sports, especially in high schools and colleges?
That scenario can be played out with serious thought, especially as we watch school arts programs being cut – just last week the Atlanta school system cut music teachers at the elementary level. But it can also lead to some laugh-worthy imaginings – performance enhancing drugs for actors, anyone?
In the most sustained flight of fantasy I’ve seen surrounding this daydream, comedian Owen Weber has just released a video imagining The “thESPiaN” Network, covering theatre as if it was sports television. It’s executed with striking verisimilitude and real professionalism. That’s right, guys in suits at a desk saying things like, “You can’t blow opening night – the critics don’t give redos,” mentioning that a drama program gave up a “sixth round Fortinbras,” and declaring, “We’re getting wild now – Oscar Wilde!” I’m very amused.
Remarkably, Weber has released the video in four and eight minute version, and the it’s the long version that has my favorite sight gag, regarding a production of the Scottish play.
There are a couple of small things that bothered me as I watched the videos. Now I don’t know Weber’s other work (though clearly I’ll be checking it out), so I have no idea whether these are characteristic or anomalies. One is very likely intentional, and it’s a moment when an actress being discussed is briefly, fleetingly objectified not for her talent but for her looks. It’s very likely that this was meant to emphasize the “bro” culture of sports, even though, let’s face it, even ESPN has female sportscasters who would be very quick to shut down that sort of conversation about a female athlete.
My second observation is that the video is completely cast with Caucasians, and while everyone may have worked for nothing and Weber’s friends who were available for the shoot on any given day may have left him few options, I do wish that a video that will surely be making the rounds of theatre programs and theatre offices everywhere – and I’m contributing to that dissemination – better represented the diversity and inclusiveness of the arts. Quoting Jeanine Tesori at the Tony Awards, though she was speaking specifically to women at that moment, “You have to see it to be it.” Look, I know: comedy is no fun when it’s picked apart, but I can’t share these without mentioning that.
I wouldn’t be sharing these videos if they weren’t well-executed, consistently clever and at a few moments, laugh out loud funny. And the bottom line is, if there was a “Stage Center” on TV every night, I’d be watching it. And maybe some new ways of talking about the arts wouldn’t be such a bad idea at all.