Two days ago, the University of Maryland’s men’s basketball team — for which I’ve been rooting my entire life — upset Wisconsin in an important home game. Immediately after the victory, fans stormed the court to celebrate. As those things go, it was a peaceful expression of joy: no one got hurt, nothing was damaged, and that was that.
But the subject became a matter of some debate the next day on all the sports talk shows. Had it been THAT important a victory? So critical as to warrant such an excessive display? A few pundits weren’t sure.
For my part, as I listened to them debate, I kept thinking: “Be lucky people care enough about what’s happening on the court to express ardent feelings.” I mean, seriously: what wouldn’t you do to see an audience in a theater storming the stage after a performance? That would be the greatest thing ever.
(Side note: Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” recalled storming the court when the Northwestern Wildcats defeated the defending national champion Indiana Hoosiers during the 1987-88 season. I recall that same game, because while he was out enjoying himself, I had to cover the sports desk at the Daily Northwestern, copy editing articles about sports I didn’t care about. I was the most junior staff member, which meant I was the only one who didn’t get to GO to the game. Sigh. I’m still bitter.)
In any event, I started to wonder what, if anything, would get theater patrons to take the standing ovation a few steps further and actually storm the stage… but I quickly got bored. It just didn’t seem likely… or even possible.
Fast forward a few hours to the first preview performance of my new play THE BUTCHER at Gulfshore Playhouse. Actually, you can skip right through the performance to the end of the post-show talk-back, a vital conversation I enjoyed very much. I’d answered the last question, and the crowd had started to disperse, when about eight or ten people made their way hastily right up to the edge of the stage to engage me in private conversation.
One man spoke animatedly about a particular monologue that seemed to make him feel understood. An Iranian woman gushed about the play’s importance to her: the personal connections she felt to the story. Another woman asked if I minded if she stared into my eyes, and when I let her, she cried quietly for a minute, expressed her gratitude, and told me I’d written a godly play.
I think I spent ten minutes or so, maybe, talking with people that way. As one person would step away from our conversation, another would step forward; some came back for seconds. And I really enjoyed it. I loved learning where the play settled into their hearts. I felt privileged to be invited into their humanity.
And then it occurred to me: in their own way, they had stormed the stage. Theater does have the power to move people the way sports can. It’s not really impossible.
How do you like that?