Something unusual happened last night, some 30 million BBC viewers watched a Performing Arts event live on TV as did a billion more throughout the world. While we’re used to major sports events attracting large numbers of viewers very rarely do we see a Performing Arts event promoted so heavily. OK so it was the opening night of the Olympics, it was our Olympics, and the level of anticipation, with Danny Boyle in charge, was feverish; but really it was the flim flam, the razzle dazzle before the serious stuff of competition began today.
Why do major sport events attract so much attention. Perhaps because there must always be winners and losers, because Darwinism denied by some is evident for all to see as the strongest, fittest and fastest survive and triumph (but not always), because success is measurable and comparable with local, national and global champions and records. And through television we can all participate and engage collectively as a group in the triumphs and the failures, the raw emotions exposed by competition, and the anticipation of what might have been if… And of course as everybody knows sport has associated benefits such as improved fitness, mental health and all round well being.
So lets look at the flim flam, the razzle dazzle of last night. Superficially when reduced to its component parts it merely comprised music , dance, speech, drama and enormous sets . But on closer examination it offered several things of which sport can only dream. First of all creativity, despite the spoilers could anybody anywhere predict what was in Danny Boyle’s imagination and of course imagination appeals to the imagination. When was the last time we saw something genuinely creative in sport; sports are governed by rules and within these parameters the predictable becomes the norm, but there are no such boundaries to the imagination. And even more remote in sport, particularly professional sport, humour. “Good evening Mr Bond” combined both imagination and humour, the last known example of which in sport (albeit unintentional) was the Zairean free kick against Brazil in 1974. But perhaps most importantly of all, inclusivity. Sport creates a hierarchy, if we’re good we progress to the next level, higher and higher until we reach the world stage and finally we stand on the podium. Last night we saw children and adults, the partially abled and disabled, men and women sharing the same stage at the same time; the performing arts are both individual and pluralistic with something for everyone. But the sum of collaborative effort is greater than its individual parts, and what we witnessed last night transcended performing arts as it entered our collective consciousness just as on some very rare occasions sport does too. But the routes are very different.
Which brings me to my point, at last.
The performing arts and culture per se contributes more to the UK economy than sport. We’re world class in the entire range of performing arts. Maybe we should be investing more in the performing arts from the school up, it makes for a better investment return and when was the last time someone fixed a performance of King Lear. Perhaps the fortnight of Olympic action should have culminated in the ”Isles of Wonder” ceremony , in excellence and in what we do best.