Poet-performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s love of soccer is a heritage story. As a child of Haitian immigrants, the blissful freedom of the soccer field represented the race toward the American dream. Using spoken word and fútbol-inspired choreography, /peh-LO-tah/ (MAY 1-5)travels from the pickup games in rural Haiti to the World Cup stadiums of Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg, all while combating the discrepancies of a game that promises freedom yet suffers from racial inequities. While sports and theatre may seem contradictory, there is a long tradition of using the arts and sports in tandem to address pressing social issues and call for change. We’ve put together some recent theatre pieces about sports that address the injustices in our world, sharing the stage and the field with all of us.
Written by Shannon Liz Miller, Clutch takes place at the funeral of a former football player who died as the result of a concussion related injury. Present at the funeral are estranged family members, a neuroscientist and the player who inflicted the injury. This play comes at a time when news of concussions and other lasting and life altering injuries has been covering the sports news headlines. Do sports organizations have a duty to protect players from such injuries? Clutch confronts modern day concerns of many athletes and their families surrounding the lasting health effects of an increasingly physical game.
The Beautiful Game
This 2000 musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton follows the story of a group of teenagers growing up during The Troubles in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1969 as the local soccer team seeking to overcome the religious and political turmoil engulfing the community. The Catholic team navigates relationships between atheist players, the priest coach and other players who become IRA volunteers. Confronting the international ethno-nationalist conflict that the world watched, The Beautiful Game navigates a period of violence and uncertainty through through the eyes of young people. It was the recipient of the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Musical in 2000.
Take Me Out
A 2003 Tony Award Winning play written by Richard Greenberg made its Off-Broadway debut at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre in 2002. Much of the play takes place in the locker room of a professional men’s baseball team. The locker room often symbolizes a toxic environment. Take Me Out acknowledges this and uses the locker room to tackle issues including homophobia, racism, class and masculinity fervent in sports. Although it was written 16 years ago, this play is just as necessary today as it was in 2013.
Sucker Punch is an award winning play by British playwright Roy Williams. Set in a run-down London boxing ring in the 1980’s, the play follows the relationship of two black boxers, Leon and Troy, and their white coach, Charlie. Navigating race relations and power dynamics through sports, Sucker Punch demonstrates that while we have come a long way there is still farther to go. The play was nominated for an Evening Standard Award and Oliver Award for Best New Play and won the Alfred Fagon Award in 2010.
Colossal is a full length play by Andrew Hinderacker which premiered in 2014 at the Olney Theatre in Olney, MD. A result of Hinderacker’s fascination with the effects of football on society, Colossal follows the story of the protagonist football player following a devastating injury and his ongoing romantic relationship with another player on the team. Colossal confronts issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights, that are often silenced in the professional sports community through voices that are striving to break through. Staged in four 15 minute quarters, this play mirrors current headlines following the NFL and American football.
Playwright Lucas Hnath tells the story of Ray, a swimmer training for the Summer Olympic games. When a cooler of performance enhancing drugs is found in the swim club’s locker, Ray’s Olympic dreams may be put to the test. Discussing moral and ethical dilemmas facing professional athletes in pressured situations, Red Speedo delves into a moral quandary. Especially prevalent in the wake of college admissions scandals, Red Speedo asks the question how far will you go and what ethical boundaries will you cross to make your dream a reality. Red Speedo opened at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016.