This special issue on theatre and sports tackles a variety of actualities from the world of athletic competition in an effort to uncover new levels of meaning emerging from a blending of theatrical appearances and facts within professional sports. Sporting events are governed by leagues and rules; however, the individual experience of attending and involving oneself in sports drastically alters the affective, personal, and communal knowledge gained and passed on from these highly theatrical experiences. Competitive sports, while supposedly based only on physical conditioning and athletic skill, always involve players and fans alike in a wide variety of different levels of theatrical meaning and engagement.
Sports participants—athletes, coaches, commentators, referees, and fans—negotiate intersections of appearance and fact, of the real and the representational, as they engage in many different kinds of performance strategies during competition. Athletes are often confronted with the task of predicting and responding to opponents’ athletic skills and coaching in real time. Referees, without the aid of video review, adjudicate player adherence to rules and regulations. People attend games and matches to witness athletes perform superhuman feats that defy normal physical limitations. Furthermore, spectators are invited to participate in pre- and post-athletic celebratory performances. Fans embody affiliations focused on local, political, and confrontational identity politics, which in turn perpetuate popular concepts of contemporary sports as a regressive cultural venue.
While the results of sporting competitions appear to be rooted in facts and statistics, athletes and spectators are increasingly challenged to enact higher degrees of initiated performance strategies during competition. Professional sports provide a complicated forum of performance strategies regulating skill, ability, desire, performance, participation, and celebrity; all of these appearances exist as part of the history of the sporting event, despite not always being adequately reflected in the final results or scores. Oscillations and interactions between these different performed identities will be a key point of investigation within the articles collected here. Contributors focus on connections between athletic competitions and performance components. What do we learn when we watch as well as participate in the rituals of athletic competition? What role do we play as audience members or as part of athletic teams? What level of inquiry and importance should be placed on the theatrical and performative conditions of any and all major sports events?
This issue of Canadian Theatre Review aims to start unpacking some of the various theatrical and performance components playing out within contemporary professional sports. Articles herein approach the topic of theatre and sports in order to consider sports as a form of theatre, theatre as athletically demanding as sports, and a variety of in-between states. Both theatre and sports are places we go to watch different kinds of plays. These plays, sequences, and moments are all enacted to allow us to revel in feats of athleticism, memorization, ingenuity, subterfuge, and execution. These plays are all part of the larger experience of embodying a uniquely theatrical mindset, because whether the whistle has blown or the curtain has fallen, theatre and sports both become more real than we ever imagined due to our communal suspension of disbelief during the process.
Moments of social and political performance likewise abound in the sports world as a measure of using the larger venue and scale of viewership to try to effect real-world change and encourage debate. Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers recently refused to stand for the US national anthem in protest against ongoing racially motivated police brutality. Fans were incensed by his actions, but the NFL has no rule or legal capability to compel players to stand for anthems during games; however, in a league with teams still bearing offensive and appropriated First Nations’ team names and images, it is notable that Kaepernick’s use of his own body to gesture toward change was met with more resolve and anger than debates about altering inappropriate franchise names and symbolic logos.
Sports fans can also be left with considerable doubt about the overall results of athletic competition because of the amazingly flexible narrative qualities of sports, which are usually regulated by various leagues, rules, referees, and external forces. Professional sports plots play out simultaneously on and...