When an event goes live, the audience turns instantly toward the performer or, in a sports arena, the athlete. In that moment, everyone is consumed by the activity at hand.
Live events differ from academic discussions in classroom settings, day-to-day activities in on-campus organizations and even the pleasure of sharing videos online. Whether it is greeting a sports team with great fanfare or sharing in others’ artistic abilities, audience members get to share in various human experiences.
Sports, in particular, inspire us to pursue larger-than-life opportunities. I remember how elated Elon students were to see their women’s basketball team win the 2017 CAA Championship. Their faces radiated hope and pride in what our sports teams could accomplish.
The same is true for the performing arts, in which we congratulate artists on their gifts and talents they use to tell real or imaginary stories. Both viewers and participants in all forms of art and entertainment are drawn together by a singular live event that rarely escapes one’s memory.
Elon’s 2017 Spring Convocation speaker, best-selling author and Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert addressed this feeling in his speech on the science of happiness. It’s experiences, not things; others, not yourselves that contribute to happiness. And this, he said, was scientifically proven to be true.
When we graduate from Elon, we won’t necessarily remember the everyday activities on campus, but we’ll remember that double-overtime basketball game or that Elon Department of Performing Arts play that resonated so deeply with us.
The contagious feeling of enthusiasm for being somewhere in person with other people is a unique attribute of live arts and live sporting events. And the sad part is the potential decline in this special experience.
Ben Cameron, former Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, alludes to this in his 2010 TED Talk entitled, ‘Why the Live Arts Matter.’ In his address to the audience, Cameron says, “We now know, in fact, that technology is our biggest competitor for leisure time.”
Today it’s convenient to purchase items without leaving the house. On the other hand, live performing arts, Cameron says, have set times and venues. How we create has also transformed — the means of artistic production and artistic distribution are accessible to everyone.
We live in an age of social media updates and streaming services that allow us to repeatedly engage with events from the past. The last moments of the game between UNC and Gonzaga. The lip sync battle with basketball legend, Shaquille O’Neal. An emu search in the town of Elon.
We are fortunate to watch these events because of technological advancements, but it’s important to watch something as it happens. And no, I do not think we should stop watching funny videos of animals creating disorder in small towns. But we should not forget about live performing arts such as the symphony, opera or ballet. I would add musicals, plays, and sports games, too. They all matter and should be celebrated.
I admit that I need to invest more time into attending live games and performances. At Elon, there are several ensemble concerts and plays scheduled before the end of the academic year. There are also men's and women’s sports such as lacrosse, golf, tennis, and track and field. And at most of these events, admission is free for students.
In sports, to keep fighting in moments of difficulty, many athletes will say, "It's not over 'til it's over." Before a show, actors and musicians will say, "break a leg" to wish a performer good luck. This sense of community is what makes live events essential to humankind. For just two or three hours, we escape from our current circumstances to laud the accomplishments of our fellow classmates. To me, that’s a remarkable communal experience not worth missing.