A friend of mine, and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, texted me this morning: “Could not have scripted it any better.”
What an interesting thought. The finale of a truly remarkable season for the Cubs not only ended a 108 year championship drought, it ended with an unlikely of scripts. Or perhaps it ended in the most Cub-like way ever. As we now all know this morning, the Cubs battled a heart-racing final act to complete a century old quest. And perhaps that’s the way it should be for these Cubs. Perhaps baseball is reminding us again not only how hard this game is to play, but how dramatic, gut-wrenching, and joyous it can all be when a script, players, setting, and mood all come together.
As the great writers Will Leitch and Derrick Goold recently said, baseball, at its core, is the building and release of tension. No other sport is truly off-the-clock like baseball is (let’s ignore the pitchers warm-up clock for a moment, mmm’kay?) Football, basketball, hockey all come with derived play-clocks. At some moment 15 or 20 minutes from now, time expires for those sports and those players. And ending is forced upon us. For baseball, the on-field script not only dictates its final curtain, it manufactures its own inertia. Getting to three outs moves the action ahead and it’s up to its uniformed talent to move the scene-work forward. How a pitcher throws, how a batter reacts, how a runner jumps, how a manager strategizes all drive the plot forward. How long that takes, how many hits, how many pitching changes are all musical numbers that push and pull that tension forward. Baseball writes its script before your eyes.
You simply can’t hide behind an at-bat. When taking full swings at a ball, there’s no denying when you’ve missed. Broadway is very similar. Like our national past time, live theatre success is dependent on achievements within its own white lines. Do you have characters, plot devices, and physical production elements that not only move the action forward, but create those pitcher-to-batter conflicts so necessary for the building and release of tension? If all of those elements come together, are you marketing a product that has the ability to demand audience attention, keep patrons riveted for 3 hours, and build loyalists for a lifetime?
On its biggest stage, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians showed us that scripts, on paper alone, don’t make good drama. Up 3 games to 1 in a best of seven series, Cleveland was destined to break their own 68 year curse. As they say in live theatre, the script needed to get on its feet. You need physical and perhaps unforeseen production elements to truly create a masterful production. You need the players, the real-time tension, and you need a captivated and transformed audience. You need heart-racing writers on deadline burning the midnight oil storytelling to the world. When you put it all together, the tension is colossal and its release is immensely satisfying.
It takes more than a line-up card in baseball, and it takes more than a great script on Broadway. It requires risk-takers and dreamers who understand that Broadway, like baseball, is extremely dimensional and highly sensory. Once under the bright lights in front of a captivated audience, a well written script can be completely flipped. On Broadway and for Game 7s, the bigger the stakes, the bigger the release. If you achieve that, people will come, Ray.