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Student Blog: Let's Call The Olympics What They Are: Theater


There is so much theatre out there if we only take the time to look for it.

Student Blog: Let's Call The Olympics What They Are: Theater On July 23, 2021, the opening ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was held in Tokyo, Japan. While the Olympics were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still considered the 2020 Olympics. In a world where many of us are still without live theatre, we are looking for theater in different places. With the Olympics beginning now, I have noticed that the Olympics do share similarities with theater which allowed me to make the connection that the Olympics are a kind of theater. In this article, I am going to discuss the Olympics, theater, and how they intersect to create the phenomenon we know today.

The first Olympics took place from 776 BC to 393 AD in Olympia, Greece. They were tournaments of champions to honor the gods, most importantly Zeus. Only men were able to compete until the games began to honor Hera, during which unmarried women were allowed to compete. Some of the events included running, boxing, wrestling, horseback riding, and a pentathlon that included javelin throwing, long jumps, foot racing, and discus throwing. It is interesting to note that during these Olympics, athletes and spectators were granted immunity to travel to and from the games. All warfare was ceased and politicians would use this gathering as an opportunity to meet with others and discuss politics and economics.

The modern Olympics first happened in 1896 in Athens, Greece. There were 280 athletes from 13 different countries participating in events including wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, and more. All of the competitors were men and some of them were even tourists who just happened to be at the games. The first "successful" modern Olympic Games were held in Paris, France in 1924. These games had more than 3,000 athletes, both male and female, from over 100 nations. Today, there are about 11,000 athletes competing across 33 different sports.

Now, let's compare the history of the Olympics to the history of theater. The origin of theater can be traced back to 6th century Greece, where followers of Dionysus began to stage sacrificial killings of animals to honor their god. A priest of Dionysus, named Thespius, added the actor to the stage and created the first true play. In Greece, there were theatre competitions and festivals where playwrights would write and perform their plays to be judged by others. While theatre does have a long and complicated history that brought it to where it is today, it is important to note the similarities that the Olympics and theatre share with their beginnings. Both started as a way to please the gods, whether it be by having elaborate sacrifices or by competing in sports. Both began in Greece, an epicenter of culture during this time period. Both brought together people from across the nation and other nearby areas to see and enjoy a spectacle.

There are certain elements that every production of theatre must have to make it theatre. The necessary elements do change with each persons opinions, but I pulled out what I believe are the most basic elements of theatre: performers, audience members, a director/crew, a theater space, design aspects, and a script. I personally believe that not all theatre performances have to have every single one of these in the traditional aspect, but most performances do. The Olympics also have every one of these elements in some shape or form. Let's break it down.

Performers: These are obviously the athletes who are performing their sport. The commentators can also be considered performers, since they are most likely reading from a script for people to hear.

Audience Members: There are millions of people who watch the Olympics around the world. Pre-pandemic, there were thousands of people who watched them in-person. We, the non-athletes, are the audience members.

Director/crew: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a group of people in charge of anything pertaining to the Olympics. Their main goal is to support the games and make sure everything runs smoothly. They oversee all of the decisions made about the games including location, sports, rules, and more.

A Theater Space: Personally, I believe that something does not have to be performed inside of a traditional theater for it to be theatre. Something can be performed on the street or in a random building, and it is still theatre. So, the 40 Olympic venues around Japan to support these games are considered the theater space. Different events are held in different spaces and most sports do have their own arena to perform in.

Design Aspects: The Olympics are heavily focused on the design. Between the set design of different arenas to the sound design of the commentators, it is very important for the technical designers of the Olympics to do their job well. Also, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics are very grand and filled with lighting, sound, set, and projection designs.

Text/Script: This one is the hardest to mold to the Olympics because there is no script in sports. But, there is a script for interviews and commentators. There also is a script for what is going to happen. This pre-written text will not be able to declare the winner, but it will say what sport is happening, where it is happening, what is going to happen during the event, what is going to be said during the event, and more. This allows for the whole event to have a structure.

As you can see, the Olympics are theater. There is probably some overlap in their history because of the location and time of their origins. It would be likely that some Olympic stadiums were used as theaters in Greece. It is also likely that some athletes also acted and vice versa. I hope this article shows that theatre is not just one thing on a stage. It is everything and anything that follows the guidelines for what one thinks theater should and could be. There is so much theatre out there if we only take the time to look for it.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Paige Rosko