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Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Here are some notes from watching the Super Bowl and noticing what the liturgically-trained theater-person could not help but notice.

There was another national anthem disaster. This has happened many times before, yet some people still get upset. Consider that this might be because a ritual moment was turned into a personal expression by an entertainer.

Instead of delivering the song of praise for this moment of civil religion, Christina Aguilera attempted to demonstrate personal style and artistic creativity, to draw attention to herself. One can do that in a ritual moment only if one is simultaneously delivering the expected words. For a national anthem, the melody must be recognizable also.

For the half-time show, the person who had the biggest job was the director. Can you imagine how many hours of rehearsal time were involved in putting all the pieces together? How far in advance did the director have to inform the producer and technical staff what equipment was needed? How much effort, before rehearsal, went into making sure all the physical pieces went together? How much planning went into moving people and things so that everybody got where they needed to be exactly when they needed to be there? How far in advance did parts of the stage have to begin moving in order to deliver the next performer exactly on cue? Did you notice that the audience never had to wait for someone to get in place? That there were no pauses or hesitations?

Whether one liked the entertainment content or not, the presentation had one continuous flow overall and from one element to another. Does anyone at your parish work on maintaining such a smooth flow for your services? Do all know their cues and begin as soon as they should without adding or omitting anything? Does everybody come to rehearsal and follow the script as adapted for your worship space and congregation's needs?

Unfortunately, the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy was a great contrast to the half-time show.

Roger Staubach is a man worthy of admiration, but he was not well treated by the planners or by those around him.  He was standing in the midst of the crowd, looking as if he did not know what to do. He was announced, but he still waited to get encouragement to do what he was supposed to do. His route was repeatedly impeded and interrupted. He arrived on the platform after being out of sight for a while, but nobody was prepared to receive the trophy from him, and the whole world saw the awkwardness of Terry Bradshaw guiding Staubach as if “audibilizing” and redirecting some lesser player.

Bradshaw was a great quarterback and is now an admired entertainer, but he has no idea how to conduct a ritual. There were no ceremonial words from him or Roger Goodell.   First Bradshaw handed over the trophy, then he put a microphone in the commissioner's other hand.  The person Goodell addressed was not the person who was given the trophy. The ceremony was over without having an ending, because Bradshaw was now asking one of those obvious and pointless TV reporter questions.

Yet, the ceremony was not over, there was the announcement of a physically non-existent award for the Most Valuable Player. This involved no trophy or plaque, but Bradshaw delivered his most formal words of the ceremony, the carefully rehearsed advertising copy for the automobile which was more visible on the field than the MVP was on the overcrowded stage.

Compare this lack of clear flow to that of the half-time show. Compare this lack of ceremony with how neatly and ceremonially each individual Olympic medal is presented or soccer's World Cup. Compare these events to the coming Oscar ceremonies.

When you find some event to be annoying or distracting, ask yourself why. Was it something that was done or not done? Was it awkward because it was over-prepared and mechanical or because it was under-prepared and rough-edged? If it was too long, what could have been omitted? If it seemed rushed, was it because of the speakers or the overall pacing? Was the event respectful of all the participants or were some more focused on their own parts rather than caring about the others involved?

How can an event possibly be done well if all are not clearly agreed on what are the purposes and priorities of the event?

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