So I was getting my hair cut yesterday, and the place where I go I sport-themed, with a half-dozen televisions showing ESPN. (Don't judge! I like the hot towel wrap!) Now, while I enjoy watching a good football game or a day at the diamond, I'm not one of those people who avidly follows particular teams, players, coaches, or the like. It's just not something I've ever spent time on. So as the young woman was cutting my hair, I found myself listening to SportsCenter, marveling that there are people whose job it is to dissect players' stats, performance, history, and future.

Then I thought, we'd never have something like this for theatre. Somehow we've culturally elevated athletics to a place where people can watch television about the minutiae of college football or professional hockey all day long--but we have never raised the importance of the arts to the same level.

That's not entirely true--there are places, like this site, that focus entirely on the art and craft of theatre. An acting alumna of Purdue's acting program, Dawn Glover, has been vigorously blogging about the west-coast theatre scene on Facebook (you can find her posts at I'm sure there are others out there.

But a discussion of the arts has never risen in popular consciousness to the same level as athletics has. But I wonder: ESPN was a pretty big gamble at the time it was launched; there wasn't any evidence that 24 hours of sports coverage would be profitable--that people would watch. Who can say if a 24-hour theatre and arts channel wouldn't work? I'm not talking IFC or early A&E; I'm talking on the same model as ESPN.

SportsCenter, as far as I understand it, is a one-hour show presented on a loop all day. I imagine that there are probably three or four tapings to keep up with new information throughout the day. In the evenings, sporting events are shown. So here's my proposal: a one hour show all about theatre. We get high-profile theatre reviewers on, and experienced directors, designers, playwrights, performers, and technicians; we give them five-minute segments throughout the hour. Start the hour with highlights of plays from around the country--cutting-edge directorial choices, interesting uses of materials, powerful acting moments. Then we move into shorter segments where our collection of talking heads analyzes productions and--more importantly--the theatre professionals working on those productions: "Rich Dionne's use of data communication technology continues to expand; his recent production of Johnny Goes to Orlando saw six individual wired networks, each with as many as four subsets. This is crazy, Jean! He keeps adding more gear to his control rigs, but if he keeps pushing the boundaries this way, no ones going to be able to afford what he's doing!" (Okay--that was a stretch. But you get the idea.)

Why couldn't this work? Why couldn't we raise the level of cultural dialog in this country by leveraging a packaging and delivery model that has been proven? I am not at all suggesting that we resort to the kind of hyped-up attention to particular athletes choices of footwear and whatnot that sometimes fills athletics discussions. But we could use the same format to present cogent, thoughtful, and compelling discussions about our art and how we do it. By doing so, maybe we educate the general public about how to talk about what we do--instead of arguing why we are relevant, we start by assuming it from the get-go and provide a framework and vocabulary for understanding our relevance.

Who's with me?

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Comment by Rich Dionne on May 10, 2013 at 10:46am
I think you're right, Jacob--that's what TMZ and E! are tapping into: celeb gossip. But what if we could use that same format to raise the level of conversation?
Comment by Jacob Coakley on May 10, 2013 at 10:10am

I think it's a good idea -- but I also think it already exists! It's E! It's TMZ, it's Perez Hilton, it's all the gossip sites, it's all the tabloids. People don't watch SportsCenter to find out how to elevate their own game, or how to play the game better, or how the grounds crew gets the grass green or the video on the scoreboard--they watch to critique the teams and players they're fans of. Same thing with theatre. People want to know what Kristen Chenowith wore to the Tonys, or what Neil Patrick Harris will sing. But only a select few will actually watch if NPH wants to talk about how he practices to get a magic trick done right. I donno -- am I wrong? 

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