Theater People Should Love the Olympics: Here's Why
The Sochi Games will be the most dramatic (and expensive) theatrical event of the year. Can you really afford to miss out?
As a person who spends a good percentage of his waking hours within the dark confines of a theater, I instinctively recoil at the notion of athletic competition. Always chosen last in gym class and unable to tell you precisely when baseball season starts (I think it roughly coincides with the Drama Desk Awards), I'm the living, breathing antithesis of a jock. Yet I love the Olympics with an undying passion that stems from the very same place as my love for the stage. I'm particularly jazzed about the upcoming winter games in the Russian resort town of Sochi. The Olympics have everything that makes a good play: rivalry, betrayal, patriotism, and sex. Will we ever forget watching in rapt horror as Nancy Kerrigan gripped her knee and beseeched the heavens, "Why? WHY?!?!" Will all great Neptune's ocean wash the blood clean from Tonya Harding's hand? This is the stuff of Shakespeare.
The obvious hook for theater fanatics is the opening ceremony, a star-studded event that usually includes a cast of thousands of costumed dancers interpreting the history and culture of the host nation. Over the years they have ranged from breathtakingly stunning to embarrassingly cheesy. Russia has a rich tradition of theatrical spectacle, but little is known about the Sochi opening ceremony beyond the fact that event producer Konstantin Ernst has hired "Show Canada," a Montreal-based theatrical design firm. If Ernst is looking for a Russia-specific show that's already rehearsed and ready to go, he might consider this heartwarming gay musical devised by several very enthusiastic Broadway talents.
Verily, LGBT rights will be a lingering and dramatically charged issue at these games. The anti-gay "propaganda" laws recently passed by the Duma have shoved Russia's beleaguered LGBT community even further into the closet. But there's no group as stubbornly defiant as Russian lesbians. It will be hard to keep them down. A source within the Russian government tells me that the Kremlin is quietly bracing for a spate of gay-rights protests, likely to be played out in front of the international media and billions of television viewers worldwide. "Do you hear the people sing?"
One person who won't hear the people sing (at least not in person) is President Barack Obama. He's responded to Russia's anti-gay laws by refusing to attend the games, sending openly gay U.S. Olympians Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, and Brian Boitano in his stead. He might have made his message to Putin even more pointed by sending Billy Porter in his fabulous fur. (I call this look "Siberian Eleganza.") Also, I'm convinced that this extraordinary exhibition routine (complete with costume change) by Rudy Galindo could singlehandedly melt the icy heart of Vladimir Putin and bring gay rights to Mother Russia.
Naturally, the athletes in the winter games with the biggest drama-queen appeal are the figure skaters. Three-time medalist Yevgeny Plushenko personifies Russia's culture of insecure hypermasculinity. Graceful on the ice but tactless as a human being, he famously came in second to Evan Lysacek in Vancouver, but took a moment for himself on the winner's podium, anyway. He also described Lysacek's routine as "women's skating" because it didn't feature a quadruple axel. (This is the skating equivalent of calling someone a "three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave.") This 31-year-old sass machine is the greatest sports villain since Ivan Drago and now he's back, occupying Russia's lone men's figure-skating slot and denying 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun a shot at Olympic glory (despite the fact that Kovtun bested Plushenko at Russia's national competition).
Not to be outdone in villainy, the U.S. Figure Skating Association bucked tradition this year when it snubbed Asian-American ice princess Mirai Nagasu even though she won bronze at nationals and nearly medaled in Vancouver. (The U.S. women's team gets three slots at the Olympics.) The third spot will go to the decidedly blonder Ashley Wagner, who came in a distant fourth. According to The New York Times, Wagner has been heavily promoted by NBC, which has undoubtedly already spent a good chunk of change producing glossy "background story" videos about Wagner to air during the moments when non-American skaters are in the rink. Meanwhile, Nagasu will serve as an alternate. Like Cinderella left home from the ball, one wouldn't be surprised to hear her quietly sing "In My Own Little Corner" as she warms the bench in her sequined costume. Well, buck up, Mirai. This might not be the end of your story: Impossible things are happening every day.
And speaking of costumes, when is the International Olympic Committee going to award a gold medal for best designer? Costumers around the globe, many of whom work in the theater, are spending incalculable hours in preparation for the games. If those sewing-machine ninjas aren't going to get a medal, can the American Theatre Wing at least present the best one with an honorary Tony Award? My vote goes to Loudmouth Golf, the official outfitter of the Norwegian curling team.
While those super-unsexy Viking pj's aren't likely to fit into the equation, it's a well-known fact that the Olympic Village turns into the world's biggest singles bar in the last few days of the games. With all those beautiful and muscular bi-athletes coupling, the potential for star-crossed love is endless: Will the lasting legacy of Sochi be a Russo-American Romeo and Juliet? (Roman and Julius?) We can only hope...minus that last bit.
So get thee to a television and partake in the best drama money can buy. At least it better be. The $50 billion price tag for these games is enough for 666 more Broadway productions of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark. Julie Taymor, eat your heart out.