ROUNDABOUT BLOG

The Last Match

From the Artistic Director: The Last Match

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by Todd Haimes

 

This New York premiere marks Roundabout’s first collaboration with Anna, though I have long admired her body of work. From her play Photograph 51, which played on the West End in 2015 and follows the story of renowned physicist Rosalind Franklin’s fight for scientific recognition, to A Delicate Ship, which ran at The Playwrights Realm in 2015 and explores the existential underpinnings of young love and lust, Anna’s work proves her willingness to confront all the complexities and contradictions within her characters. There are no easy answers in her plays; she faces the beauty and ugliness of her stories head-on, relentlessly mining the scenarios she renders for their deepest layers. Her plays investigate new perspectives in a way that always surprises and thrills me, and, like all great theatre, her work never fails to enrich and complicate my familiarity with subjects I thought I already understood.

And The Last Match is no exception. Set during the semifinals of the US Open, Anna’s electric play follows two professional tennis players who have put everything on the line for their game. Inspired by the real-life career paths of some of the sport’s biggest icons, The Last Match delves into the pressures and stresses placed on players who, due to the short-lived nature of a profession that demands retirement at an early age, must race against time to achieve their dreams. For sure, in every game there is a great deal of money, reputation, and glory at stake, but Anna’s play hones in more specifically on what her characters, after sacrificing so much in the name of perfecting their craft, owe to their families and to themselves. With so much riding on every serve and every return, tennis -- one of the most solitary of sports -- can become an internal maelstrom of doubt, euphoria, and nostalgia. By tracing the inner tribulations of her characters, Anna meticulously unpacks how a tennis match can spiral into an all-out war.

By expertly unpacking the truth and humanity from within this fictional tennis match, Anna exposes so much about the nature of ambition and competition regardless of profession or field. American workaday culture is infamous for its glorification of stress, workaholism, and burnout; it’s not only athletes who risk the health of their family, their friendships, and themselves in the name of success. Anna’s play deftly explores what happens when the pressures of an incredibly driven lifestyle clash with the demands of familial relationships and personal care. With a play that is both characteristically nuanced and propulsively acrobatic, Anna asks us all to examine the reality behind our cultural obsession with competition, recognition, and victory.

I am thrilled for you to experience Anna’s wonderful play, mounted by this exceptionally talented creative team. This is such a captivating story, and I couldn’t be more excited to share with you Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s remarkable work in bringing it to a New York stage for the first time. As always, I am eager to hear your reactions to the show, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your thoughts. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director/CEO


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, From Todd Haimes, The Last Match


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The Psyches Of Champions

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by Jason Jacobs

 

THE LAST MATCH begins previews October 28, 2017

 

The Last Match brings the audience into the minds of two top tennis players engaged in intense competition. According to sports psychologist David Fletcher, professional athletes differ from most people. “Winning in sport isn’t normal; so being psychologically different in certain ways is not just advantageous, it’s necessity.” Fletcher notes a tendency towards positive characteristics like resilience and extroversion in pro athletes, but also towards negative traits, like obsession and selfishness. An understanding of how the mind impacts athletic performance has led to a profession called sports psychology, which can help explain the drive to compete.

 

COMPARISON and RIVALRY

Since the 19th century, psychologists have seen that athletes perform better in head-to-head competition versus practicing alone. Competition improves

Actor Alex Mickiewicz practices his serve.

performance, such as speed or hitting a ball, and it also impacts physiology, such as endurance, heart rate, and the ability to withstand pain. Social comparison—the tendency to compare ourselves to others—helps drive competition. Athletes or not, most humans rank ourselves to determine if we are “ahead” or “behind” others. Comparison usually raises our competitive edge; however, if we sense too many competitors in the field, the desire to compare and compete may actually decrease.

 

Rivalry, the focused comparison directed at one individual that we see between Tim and Sergei, plays a greater role in single-player games like tennis. NYU researcher Gavin Kilduff has shown that athletes compete more intensely against individuals or teams they view as rivals. Kilduff explains that rivals “are motivated to outperform each other not just because of what is at stake in the competition, but also because of their history with one another and the implications that future competitions between them have for this competitive relationship.”

 

MOTIVATION: Extrinsic vs Intrinsic

Comparison and rivalry both serve as motivation, but people compete for a variety of reasons. Sports psychologists look at distinctions between extrinsic motivation (external goals) and intrinsic motivation (internal reasons). Sports offer many external rewards: money, scholarships, fame, and glory. However, intrinsically motivated athletes find a sense of success through their own improvement and growth, and in the pure enjoyment of the game. For pros like Tim and Sergei, long-term dependence on extrinsic rewards can actually diminish internal motivation over time. Coaches and sports psychologists now see the benefits of stronger intrinsic motivation to support a long sports career.

Actor Alex Mickiewicz visiting the U.S. Open.

THOUGHTS: Focus vs. Distraction

Thoughts during the game have significant impact on performance—especially in tennis, a game played with no teammates or coaches. Maintaining focus is crucial in a match that can last a long time, with no pauses. Under pressure, the player who keeps their attention on the game and does not allow distractions to break their focus has a competitive edge. Additionally, self-talk (how an athlete speaks to her/himself during the game) can affect performance either for better or worse. Ziegler allows us to hear the “self-talk” of two highly competitive athletes. Even if we can’t hit a ball, we can  understand how competition informs our own lives, be it in school, work, or at home.

 

 


The Last Match begins performances at the Laura Pels Theatre on September 28, 2017 . For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, The Last Match


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