Monthly Archives: January 2020

Sports on Stage

Growing up, I tried sports. They were not my thing. I did find, however, that theatre was my thing. Since discovering this, I’ve been on a path that has led me to now: finishing my final semester of my undergraduate degree in theatre (94 days till graduation as of the original date of this post). I have found, however, that many of my favorite scripts involve stories that center around sports. Specifically, one of my all time favorite plays is The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe. I first read the play in Spring of 2017 and it became one of my dream shows. I want to be in it. I want to design for it. I want to direct it. I want to get my hands on this script as many times as possible. So, when I saw that Normandale Community College was performing the show at KCACTF Festival 52 in Region 5 this year, it became my top priority show to see. I was also intrigued to see the show Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker, which was being performed by the same school. At first glance I thought, “Okay, a football version of The Wolves, this should be cool.” But oh man, I was dead wrong, and glad to be wrong. When I sat down in the theater to experience the play for the first time, I pulled out my notebook to help me remember details so I could write about the show later. Sixty-five minutes and six pages of notes later, I left Colossal extremely moved. It was about the same with The Wolves: I left the theater in tears with so many thoughts and notes that I am still processing days after seeing the performance. But what made these shows so good? Well, dear reader, I am glad you asked. 

Before diving into the details of Normandale’s productions, let me give you a quick summary of the two plays. Colossal follows a man who was once a record breaking college football player who suffered from a career ending injury. Mike is now in a wheelchair and is in physical therapy. Throughout the show, a younger, pre-injury version of himself talks to Mike and takes the audience back in time to see him at the peak of his athletic ability. Through this nonlinear storytelling, we are able to see his love for his teammate, Marcus, grow, while his relationship with his father becomes more broken. Mike’s relationship with his father, Damon, was disrupted by Mike’s desire to play football. Damon, who owns a dance company, was furious that his son would choose to play a sport that could potentially destroy his body.   What I found most interesting about this show was that while there was the romantic subplot between Mike and Marcus, the true love story came from Mike finally reconciling with his father. In an age where LGBT+ representation is becoming more prevalent in contemporary scripts, I appreciated that it flowed seamlessly through the plot. It was not forced in the writing and the on stage intimacy and beautifully handled (hats off to the directing team). Overall, the story between Mike and Damon is the relationship you are rooting for to be healed throughout the course of the play. The ending of the show was the most satisfying ending I have seen on stage in a long time and put in me a spot where I could have immediately sat down to watch it all again.   

The Wolves follows a girl’s high school soccer team as they warm up for each of their games throughout their competitive indoors season. The girls are only distinguished by the numbers on their jerseys, and many of the conversations that they have overlap each other. This makes the audience focus in to try and pick up every detail that is being said. DeLappe’s script is written in such a way that the truly important, plot driving moments are punctuated by the fact that they are not being overlapped by other conversations. There are a wide range of conversations that happen amongst the very diverse group of girls, from ghost stories to why the “R” word is not okay to the rumor that #7 had an abortion. We see teammates who were best friends deal with a major rift, a captain who is doing her best to be an authority figure for her peers even though she is uncomfortable, sheltered girls, and a player who deals with a major anxiety disorder. Throughout the course of the show, the team is dealt a devastating blow and because of this, learn that the biggest battles are won as a team. Ten minutes into the play, I wrote down the note, “Man, I don’t miss high school.” However, by the end of the piece my mind was right back in the mindset of being 16. I remembered the wonderful highs, the horrible lows, and all the levels in between that came with being a teenager trying to figure out life. The Wolves is written in such a way to remind those in the audience who are long past high school just how dynamic and emotionally driven that period of life once was. It also is a great example of how teenagers deal with grief, how adults dealing with grief behave in front of teenagers, and what happens to the teenagers when they see the adults in distress. There are so many layers of psychology through this character-focused show and the gals of Normandale pulled it off wonderfully. 

Every performance an actor takes has its own physical demands, but shows involving sports have their own special challenges. The casts of The Wolves and Colossal took this challenge to the extreme. The girls’ soccer team was constantly doing warm-up stretches and ran drills that are used regularly in the actual sport. Each cast member held themselves in such a way that made it seem as if they truly had been playing soccer since they were little. They also had to have an extreme amount of mental focus to be able to carry on separate conversations happening simultaneously.  While The Wolves was very impressive physically, Colossal took it up about ten notches when it comes to physical dedication on stage. The twelve cast members who played football players were astounding. Twenty minutes before curtain, they were on stage doing warm ups that you would see at any pregame. Accompanied by a stellar drumline, the actors did passes to each other in the center aisle of the theater, push-ups, and contact choreography, aka, tackle exercises. Throughout the preshow, Damon was stretching and doing several different contemporary dance combinations, foreshadowing his character’s role in the show. What I found most astounding though was when present-day Mike was watching a video recording of his past self playing football. The actors would run the play and Mike would “pause” the recording, and then press “rewind” on his remote AND THE ACTORS REWOUND ALL OF THEIR ACTIONS. Not to mention the half-time show, which was a contemporary dance piece accompanied once again by the drumline that communicated the battle of traditional masculinity and the bonds/struggles between a father and his son. The amount of strength, grace and control that was displayed throughout Colossal was the single most impressive physical performance I have seen on stage in my whole life. 

I strongly believe that the best thing that comes from doing shows about sports is the empathy building that comes with it. Theatre as an artform is intended to create empathy, but there is a special kind that comes from stepping into the world of sports. It’s stereotypical that theatre people are not sports people. They didn’t play “sportsball” because they were in rehearsals. People who grew up playing competitive sports spent all of their time doing their respective games. Taking on shows like Colossal or The Wolves gives people who didn’t grow up playing organized sports a chance to gain a new perspective on what others find joy in. Likewise, I strongly believe that a person who loves sports but isn’t super keen on theatre could watch one of these two plays and walk out with a slightly higher appreciation of the arts. As theatrical artists, it is our job to build connections through the work we create. Sometimes, those connections are meant to make the audience grow, but more often than not, those connections are intended to shape you into a better storyteller, artist, and overall human being. 

I was deeply moved by the work put on by the casts and crews of Normandale’s productions at KCACTF. They were bold, innovative, physically and emotionally impressive, well-done, and handled with grace by everyone involved. There’s usually at least one show a year that will re-fan the flame for my love of theatre and I am blessed to have gotten two for the price of one so early on in 2020. Bravo, Normandale. I wish your school nothing but the best in your future productions. Thank you for sharing your gifts at Festival 52 this year. 

 

Go see theatre, y’all. It makes you a better person. 

 

Until Next Time, 

Abby

 

Rome Highlight Reel

Hello, 2020! Woof, we’re only two weeks into this year and life is C R A Z Y! However, it’s the best kind of crazy. It’s only 43 days till the opening night of my final performance at Missouri Western, 73 days till my 22nd birthday, 108 days till graduation, and 217 days till I marry my best friend. Life is bonkers, y’all. 

I was blessed to end 2019 and ring in 2020 in Italy with my future-in-laws. For those who don’t know, Sweet Ben’s mom is at the Nato Defense College in Rome and will soon begin her next assignment in Naples, Italy. Ben’s sister and dad are also abroad with her, so this trip right after Christmas was the first time we had all been together since August when Ben and I sent them off at the airport. Over the course of eleven days, I got to have so many wonderful adventures in a country I had always dreamed of visiting. Here is an abridged version of the eleven days I got to spend with Ben and his family in Rome! 

Day 1 (12/27)

Highlight: After three flights (one of which was eight hours long), we landed in Rome and got to hug Ben’s parents and sister. Once Ben and I had a nap after lunch to battle jet lag, we took the Metro to a cozy little pizzeria. Little did I know that the first thing you see once you exit the station that leads to the restaurant is the Colosseum. Yeah, that was a pretty nifty sight to behold before dinner. 

Favorite Taste: Salami Pizza. Honorable mention goes to the shot of Limoncello after dinner. 

Fun Fact: It’s super common for Europeans to have coffee after dinner. This is a cultural norm I can totally get behind. 

 

Day 2 (12/28)

Highlight: Sant’Eustachio is said to be one of the best coffee shops in Rome. Judging by the crowd that was crammed into this relatively small space, a lot of people thought it was really good. If you’re ever in Rome, go check out this place. While it was a bit overwhelming, my Romeo e Giulietta was delightful. 

Favorite Taste: Gnocchi and Mozzarella in Tomato Sauce at this little corner restaurant we found by wandering down the wrong street 

Fun Fact: In 609, The Pantheon was the first temple that once honored Roman gods to be transformed into a church. This saved this brilliant piece of architecture from being destroyed during the Middle Ages.

 

Day 3 (12/29)

Highlight: On the first Sunday of the month, it is free to enter into Vatican City, which causes a TON of people to come out to visit. After going through the museum (which includes the jaw-dropping Sistine Chapel), we found a shortcut to go into St. Peter’s Basilica. Wandering through the gigantic church and praying with Ben for our future marriage was a beautiful experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

Favorite Taste: Cappuccino after visiting Vatican City

Fun Fact: Michelangelo, the artist who painted the Sistine Chapel, originally said “no” to painting the massive room because he reasoned that he was a sculptor, not a painter. The Sistine Chapel is considered to be the greatest masterpiece ever created. You aren’t allowed to take photos of the chapel, so enjoy this doggo statue that we found. 

 

Day 4 (12/30)

Highlight: Enjoying a lazy day and taking Star and Carebear on a walk. 

Favorite Taste: The richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted with the espresso I mixed into it because mochas do not exist in Rome

Fun Fact: People take their dogs EVERYWHERE. It was so funny to see so many different dogs out and about, including in the malls and some restaurants!  

 

Day 5 (12/31)

Highlight: We spent the last day of the year exploring an apartment complex that has sixteen murals on the sides of the buildings. There were so many moments throughout this trip where I would turn to Ben and say, “Can you imagine looking out your window every day to see *insert amazing sight*?” My personal favorite was the wall with rainbow squares. We were also able to find a coffee shop that put a bit of chocolate in coffee, which made me quite happy. 

Favorite Taste: French champagne with apple juice to ring in the New Year

Fun Fact: Many Italians wear red underwear to ring in the New Year. It’s said to bring good luck!

 

 

Day 6 (1/1)

Highlight: There’s sight called the Aventine Keyhole on a hill in a village in Rome, where you have a breath-taking view of St. Peter’s Basilica. We waited in line for almost an hour to take a look through this keyhole, and boy, was it worth it. (Photo credit of the view goes to Google, as my little iPhone wasn’t able to do the view justice)

Favorite Taste: Mini tiramisu at a 95 year old coffee shop 

Fun Fact: The keyhole is part of the property owned by the Priory of the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic religious order of crusader knights that was formed in the 11th century. It is the oldest surviving chivalric order in the world and is a sovereign entity under international law.

 

Day 7 (1/2)

Highlight: Climbing to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a TRIP, y’all. The climb is worth it though for the amazing view you get of the city. 

Favorite Taste: Lemon and Strawberry Gelato in the train station 

Fun Fact: Keith Allen Haring was an American artist whose pop art and graffiti-like work was inspired by NYC streets. One of his works can be found in Pisa, Italy! 

 

Day 8 (1/3)

Highlight: Ben and I took a walk with his mom in search of coffee. Afterwords, I played Monopoly for the first time in about eight years. The game took three hours, and because of my stubbornness and negotiation skills, I somehow won. Ben was proud. 

Favorite Taste: Chicken dumplings at an Italian Chinese restaurant 

Fun Fact: Monopoly was first published in 1935. It’s been causing fits of rage and strain on every sort of relationship around the world for 85 years. 

 

 

Day 9 (1/4)

Highlight: Van Gogh and Monet are two of my favorite painters ever. We got to have a VR experience where the viewer got to tour through the world of the some of the works created by these two artists. Not gonna lie, it was a bit emotional for me to get to be immersed in paintings I’ve admired my whole life. 

Favorite Taste: Fresh bruschetta mmmmm so good. Know what’s not good? Green Apple Limoncello. It’s like drinking battery acid. 

Fun Fact: You can trace the origin of bruschetta back to Ancient Roman times. It’s popularity has spread a lot since then and is still a classic favorite in Italian restaurants. 

 

Day 10 (1/5)

Highlight: While we were wandering around the ancient ruins of Ostia, I saw a large black cat just doing his thing. I followed him to take a picture and, naturally, he ran away because some weird American was being annoying. When we went through the bookstore, we found the same cat and his friend just chilling out in the shop! We saw a few other cats when we were leaving to head back home, which was probably the largest population of cats we saw on the whole trip. We happened to see another cat during our night tour of the Colosseum. It was quite funny to see people be more interested in the cat living in the ancient architecture than the stunning building itself.  

Favorite Taste: Marble cake at the café in Ostia

Fun Fact: Ostia was a port and commercial center of republican Rome. The ruins of the city include an amphitheater that could seat up to 4,000 people. Bonus fact: there are signs outside the Colosseum telling guests to not disturb any cats that are on sight. Apparently, there is a kitty colony in the stadium! 

 

Day 11 (1/6)

Highlight: There were some ridiculous seagulls we encountered during our final day in Rome. It’s almost as if they were posing for people as they took photos of them. Ben and I spent a lot of time trying to translate what these weird birds were squawking at each other. 

Favorite Taste: Bubble Toffee from my La Befana stocking

Fun Fact: The story of Pinocchio originated in Italy and the character is a common souvenir you can find on just about any corner. When we were walking through the city, we found a real life Geppetto!

 

I have always been of the belief that everyone needs to leave their home country at least once in their life. Traveling expands your worldview, reminding you how much bigger this planet is outside of your hometown. I am so thankful that I got to satisfy my travel bug urge in Rome with the Smiths, and look forward to more travels in the future!

 

Until Next Time,

Abby