Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Olympic Park. A Theatre for Sport?

St Mary's is full on in preparation for the Olympics now. We're going to use the brilliant sport facilities and accommodation as a pre-games training camp for one of the teams - last I heard it was a toss up between Japan and New Zealand. We're also hoping to provide some of the athletes for the games ourselves, building on the successes that we had in Beijing last Summer.

Drama is involved, mostly in discussions for how we can contribute to the Cultural Olympiad that will run alongside the games themselves.

So yesterday off we all went to a tower block in Stratford East twenty two stories up and looked down on the quickly developing regeneration around Olympic Park. It's impressive stuff as a huge 80,000 stadium rises up from the debris, along with an aquatics centre, a velodrome and a 16,000 capacity athletes village. For the residents of Newham the legacy of this is hugely important - can the complex economically sustain itself when the games are over? Will it offer the jobs, the affordable housing promised - and who is going to follow up the promise once the world's media have moved onto 2016?

The opportunities are there, clearly, but taking them is another issue.

As for the Cultural Olympiad the real problem is that it's difficult to tailor creative work that will support the games. Large scale participatory events, carnival, processions etc are obvious because they are inclusive, spectacular and celebratory - but it's difficult to move beyond a united nations, flag waving, are we having fun yet event?

One of the real reasons is that the genuine drama nearly always lies in sport itself. Two Sundays ago Roger Federer and Andy Roddick battered each other into submission in the Wimbledon final like Titans slugging service game after service game at each other - it had little to do with winning, everything with refusing to be beaten. A week on and at the fingernails of the first Ashes test James Anderson and Monty Panesaar spent a traumatising hour blocking every ball that the Australian bowlers could chuck at them. Two naifs, surrounded by a howling pack, somehow, from somewhere finding the tightrope route to survival... and so it goes on. Sport in itself is an art form, filled both with beautiful moments of impossible technique, dexterity and skill, but equally dependent on the psychological flaws of its participants which provide the catalyst for the epic, twisting narratives, which in turn suspend us temporarily from our everyday existence and keep us glued to the action.

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