Both actors and athletes alike compete and perform, and for it to be less messy, they tend to compete within their own circles. The disparity in the income earned between the two professionals is staggering, and as I am much more of an actor than an athlete (click here for Part I), I saw the difference from the financially inferior end. Until recently, I blindly scoffed and shook my head over and over as ESPN reported on trade deals, multi-million dollar contracts, and the poor attitude with which these business negotiations and offers were regarded, but I’ve begun to realize where this rift begins.
I have had the pleasure of attending (and working on) a large variety of theatrical performances, from free public school and community center performances to orchestra level seats on Broadway, and the ticket price range extends much, much higher than those I’ve been fortunate enough to afford. As for sporting events, tickets are not even necessary for some community leagues either, but I would be sorely naïve to omit the seats from this blog that I may never be able to afford—courtside NBA or 50-yard line bowl game.
Yes, the events are much different, and the venues are starkly different beasts, but the point is to illustrate the fee-based similarity in two distinctly different events: one where the audience watches athletes and the other to watch actors, and in both cases, premium ticket prices can soar into the thousands.
Fact: Both plays and games can get equally expensive, really quickly.
In any case, let’s get to the performance aspect. John Stockton and Doc Rivers have offered some of the best performances ever seen, but neither was nominated for a Tony. Conversely, the third gazelle from the left in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King could possibly outrun the average human, but they probably will not be invited to the NFL Combine. This should be no surprise, as Stockton and Rivers were NBA stars and didn’t set foot anywhere on a Broadway stage (at least in a running production), and dancers aren’t drafted on their ability to arabesque. However, it would be remiss to allow passage of the fact that actors exert themselves physically in addition to mentally, or that athletes are not challenged mentally.
Fact: Both actors and athletes exhibit levels of physical and mental prowess in their respective vocations.
What are the four requisites to qualify as a theatrical event?
What can we infer? That both stage plays and sporting events are theatrical events.
Fact: Competition is a major factor in both actors’ and athletes’ jobs.
In the public’s eye, when it comes to criticism, the athlete’s physical ability and the actor’s mental ability are their respective primary targets, regardless of the fact that physical and mental prowess are intertwined partners. Acknowledging society’s point of view on the difference between the two professionals, it can still be ascertained that both athletes and actors exert themselves physically and mentally during their performances.
Fact: Actors compete to perform for a living. Athletes perform in competition for a living.
The exhibition of (mainly) physical (but also mental) strength and prowess is the athlete’s art. Competition is the medium through which athletes perform. At every level, athletes are competing with peers to get to “the big show,” and when they get there, it’s another competition. However, this terminal competition is viewed as entertainment to non-participants.
The exhibition of physical and mental strength and prowess (together) within a performance is the actor’s art. Competition is the medium through which actors earn the chance to perform. At the audition/callback level, actors compete with each other to get to “the big show,” but when they get there, it is no longer a competition, but a straight-forward performance purely for entertainment value.
But, if actors and athletes are so similar in the skills they possess to execute their jobs, why is there such a difference in the way they are viewed?
Fact: Physical superiority has had mental/creative superiority in a headlock for thousands of years.
In mind versus muscle, muscle has been glorified time and time again. Not to say the excellence of the mind is not regarded, but it’s just not as…dare I say—sexy.
As cliché as it is, let’s go back to the times of Greeks and Romans…
There were physical tournaments (think Olympics and the Colosseum with Gladiators) and theatrical festivals (Festival of Dionysus). Many enjoyed both, but how do you measure success?
When two athletes are pitted against one another, one can easily be declared a victor by whoever is still standing. When two actors (or playwrights) are pitted against one another, the victor is a matter of opinion—literally.
Striving for superiority, athletes and actors evolved and each pushed the boundaries of their craft. Bodybuilders were just that, building upon their own bodies, while actors were…building upon an intangible creative muscle. As athletes compete over measurable factors, actors perform (after the competition) for entertainment value. The theatre becomes a place of leisure and recreation while the stadium becomes a battleground for physical warriors.
Fact: Comedy is more criticized than fear.
As recreational theatre becomes a staple of entertainment, it becomes commonplace that theatre is meant to make the audience feel good. The apparent goal of this magical place where you can escape your own life is joy.
As athletic games develop around their measurable factors, it becomes a commonplace that games are about physical superiority, denoting a winner and a loser. Physical strength and intimidation result in the conquest of the opponent. The audience looks on, and the apparent goal is to be on the side of the victor.
With these two understandings, the presentation of the dramatic/though-provoking work faces some friction from the public as they have been trained that theatre is a place of laughter. Also, the physical conquest of the opponent (often resulting in death) raises a champion to the crowd, and as self-preservation prescribes, you side with the victor, because opposition may result in a fate similar to the carcass being carted off the field.
As time went on, a value was placed on the measurable art of athleticism, and the opinion-based success of actors bred an opinion-based value. Money, power, respect. Lather, rinse, repeat. Fast forward to 2012 and multi-million dollar contracts are flying around the world for athletes from…around the world. Physical competition is still being measured, pushed, and stretched, and the actors’ creative competition/performance is still opinion-based.
Although that delved further into the income disparity, it leaves one major factor out, and that will be explored in the future. That factor?