In Inua Elams’ new film Rain Demigods, the gods take to the skies in a fierce basketball game. In Candace Jones’ “Flex,” high school students run around in rural Arkansas practicing their defensive stances. Near the end of Rajiv Joseph’s “King James,” after the two main characters poetically describe the greatness of NBA star LeBron James, he uses crumpled paper to take him one-on-one. play a basketball game.
Basketball isn’t just New York City’s playground this summer. Hoop Dream also plays out onstage, highlighting the theatrical, ahem and crossovers that have become increasingly prominent in recent years.
Basketball isn’t as popular as American football, for example, but its cultural reach surpasses other American team sports because basketball players are among the most recognizable players in the world. (According to Forbes magazine, three of the 10 highest-paid athletes in the world, including endorsements and off-field activities, NBA player. )
“Watching a basketball game is as exciting as watching a great play,” said coach Tybe Magger. “Rainy demigods”. “It’s like a embodied confrontation.”
Growing up in Cleveland, basketball is culturally the most important sport for Joseph. One reason is that many international stars play in the NBA, such as Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets from Serbia and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks from Greece.
“Participants come from all corners of the globe. This means that the sport has become a very important athletic sport worldwide.,” Joseph said: His play “King James” has just wrapped up at the New York City Center.
And the prevalence of basketball in pop culture, including the worlds of hip-hop and fashion, and more recently in the world of film and television, has permeated the theater space. Dwyane Wade, who retired from the NBA in 2019, was one of the producers of the Broadway shows American Son and Ain’t No Mo’.
“We all have access to basketball, even if we’ve never played for a team or organized ball,” Jones, who wrote Flex, said in a recent interview. “Every food court and small town you go to, someone is making basketball goals.”
When casting “Flex” in Screening at the Lincoln Center TheaterAt the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, the future actors taped themselves playing basketball as part of the audition process. Jones and show director Liliana Blaine-Cruise, who both played basketball in high school, said they wanted to make basketball on stage look authentic.
“People have different styles, different ways of filming, different personalities, different kinds of pomp,” Blaine-Cruise said. “We focus on the role the person is playing and how they play it, and I think that aligns with theatre.”
Set in rural Arkansas, Jones’ play tells the story of a girls’ high school basketball team in 1998, their second year in the WNBA. As such, the actors were asked to dribble, shoot and lay up as the audition process progressed. creative team. Once the cast was decided, some rehearsals weren’t about directing. The cast practiced basketball at nearby John Jay College.
“It has a kind of ensemble-like quality to it,” Blaine-Cruise said of the sport. “It’s like an ensemble of actors playing together, a team of basketball players playing together. Together they create the event.”
A few minutes later, while Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” blared, Brain-Cruise led the cast through warm-ups that included hip openers and upward arm stretches. He may have also prepared for the game. The set itself had a basketball hoop suspended at the back and a basketball court painted on the floor. A “flex” refers to a type of play performed by a basketball team, and staged productions include several instances of his play in the game.
“There is real rigor. It’s real,” Blaine-Cruise said. “I think that’s the beauty of sports on stage. is not running.”
After recently going to see the Liberty game in New York, actress Erica Matthews, who played the fictional team’s 17-year-old point guard Starla Jones, was watching a live play as she watched the players. said he remembered.
“Basketball is very intimate. You can play one-on-one games in tight spaces,” Matthews said. “They’re actually performing on stage, and the way the audience surrounds them and cheers them on, it’s basically storytelling.”
Downtown at New York Theater Workshop, Elams “Rainy Demigod” The Dante-inspired “modern epic,” about half-Greek god Demi becoming the NBA’s biggest star, is in previews and will be released on July 31. Depicting teenage pregnancy, “The Half-God of Rainfall” takes basketball to a mythical world for immortal people to deal with.
During a recent rehearsal, cast members pantomimed slow-motion basketball moves under the direction of choreographer Orlando Pavotoy. Actors Jason Bowen and Patrice Johnson-Chuvanne worked on a suitable screen setting, after which Bowen practiced mimicking Michael Jordan while wagging his tongue. (Jordan is mentioned in the play.)
Elams and show director Mugger watched from a desk littered with tiny inflatable basketballs and worked to reassign lines as choreography called for. He said that this version of Elams’ poem has his seven-person cast, but can be performed with as many or as few performers as the production desires. (produced in 2019, Birmingham Repertory Theater There were only two actors in England. )
Elams, a Nigerian poet and playwright who has played basketball since she was a teenager, said she created the character Demi to “do everything I never could” on the court. He wondered if basketball would be more appealing to the stage because it is “a much more beautiful sport.”
“There’s something humble and deadly about basketball in the sense that it has simple equations,” Elams said. “The ball bounces.
“There’s a natural melancholy there,” he added, which “makes it easier to reconcile with the human psyche.”
Of course, there were other basketball-related plays. In 2012, Broadway premiered Magic/Bird, which depicts the friendship and rivalry of his 1980s basketball stars Magic Johnson and Larry His Bird. His 2011 Broadway musical, Restrata Jones, was inspired by Aristophanes’ Restrata, in which Chea withholds sex with his basketball team boyfriend in order to keep losing games. It depicts a group of leaders. Lauren Yi’s 2018 Off-Broadway play The Great Leap, also directed by Magar, follows a teenage basketball prodigy who travels to China in 1989 to compete in an exhibition game between the Beijing and San Francisco college teams. It’s a story.
Daryl Morey, currently an executive with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, commissioned a musical comedy called “Small Ball,” which premiered in Houston in 2018. The film depicts a fictional character named Michael Jordan, but he is not Michael Jordan. of Jordan — He found himself playing in an international league with a six-inch-tall teammate.
“I think basketball is the most important of all sports, at least among the up-and-coming directors and playwrights I’ve spoken to,” Morley said.
Basketball doesn’t limit theater. Baseball has long been a fascination for playwrights, including classic shows like “Dumb Yankees.”Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award Winner 2003 play“Take Me Out,” about a baseball player who comes out as gay, received a Tony Award-winning revival on Broadway last year. In 2019, Toni Stone, written by Lydia R. Diamond, chronicled the life of Marcenia Lyle Stone, who played for the Indianapolis Crowns of the Negro league and became the first woman to play in the men’s baseball league.
So are football and boxing. Lombardi, a biopic based on the life of legendary football manager Vince Lombardi, hit Broadway in 2010, and his 1976 underdog boxing film Rocky was adapted for the stage in 2014. it was done. Broadway.
But for now, basketball is making a comeback in theater. In basketball parlance, the attention is now focused on playwrights who venture into the sport.