Work Header

To make us public sport

Work Text:

"No," Geoffrey said the first time, the second time, the third time, and the fourth time.

Anna went to his office and gave him a pleading look in case he was willing to relent, this once, for her sake. He'd said "No" to Richard, "No" to every board member who spoke to him, and "No" to Ellen.

Ellen had said, "Sorry, sorry, but I told you he'd say no."

What Anna had that Ellen didn't was that she knew the kinds of deals advertisers generally cut with theatres and the kinds of celebrity endorsements that might result. Instead of asking Geoffrey again--possibly for the seventh time--she said, "The deal is in place whether you refuse or not, and we can't afford to alienate our new sponsor. If you are unwilling to work with the, ah, the celebrity actors--"

"They are not actors," Geoffrey said, throwing up his hands and sounding as though he was on the edge of bellowing, though at least if he bellowed at Anna he wasn't starting arguments with ghosts.

"--then they'll do the commercials without your assistance."

"I can't think of anything more counterproductive than having--" there was a lacuna in Geoffrey's speech that suggested expletives deleted "--hockey players talk about our theatre."

"I can," Anna said, and played her trump card. "They're not going to talk about the theatre in the advertisements, they're reading short speeches. They can do those speeches with or without your assistance."

Geoffrey went pale. "I thought they were going to deliver the standard pabulum with labored hockey puns. The official theatre festival of the 2010 Canadian Olympic ice hockey team blah blah blah puck in lieu of fuck blah blah blah phallic imagery."

"That was the original concept for the ad series, actually, but one of the managers involved mentioned that he did drama when he was in high school, and changed the scripts."

For a moment, Anna feared that Geoffrey was going to pull out all of his hair at once. He raged at the ceiling in an incoherent noise that sounded a little like "Richard," then slumped. "This is ludicrous. No one would go to see hockey if a great actor were on the ice in an ad. Why would anyone go to see a play just because a hockey player attempts to act in an advertisement? And I use the term 'attempts' advisedly."

Anna smiled tightly at him. "The manager said, and I quote--" she read the notes from the meeting from her clipboard "--'Anyone who can get a Hamlet worth watching out of Jack Crew can teach Sidney Crosby how to say five lines of Henry V convincingly.'"

After a period of spluttering, Geoffrey said, "I didn't get anything out of Jack he didn't bring to the role," but his voice was quiet and resigned.

"I'll set up the first meeting for Tuesday," Anna said.


Geoffrey looked at the six athletes in front of him, each of them pulled away from his normal schedule for the commercials and flown in on a red-eye for one whole day in New Burbage to learn and deliver some of the most difficult lines in the canon. They had to finish the taping in time to get the commercials out prior to the Olympics, no previews, no dress rehearsal, just the performance. "This is going to be almost impossible," he said to wake them up.

"Almost," one of them said. They weren't wearing jerseys or name tags, so Geoffrey didn't remember what that one's name was, only that he was the one who would be butchering Mark Antony.

There wasn't enough inflection in the man's voice to make it a question. Geoffrey revised his estimates downward. "Practically impossible. It is nearly inconceivable that each of you will be able to read more than three consecutive words of the greatest drama in English in such a way that anyone will want to watch you without cringing."

They made a grumbling noise en masse and the mental image of what could happen to a lone actor in a conference room with Olympic athletes who felt their masculine honor was being impugned occurred to Geoffrey. He held up his hand, hoping he could finish his thought. If they couldn't take criticism, the project was over before it could begin. They fell quiet, and he let out his breath in relief. "I've been told that you gentlemen specialize in nearly impossible feats, such as zipping across a sheet of ice at incomprehensible speeds while shepherding a small piece of rubber and avoiding other people, some of them even larger than you."

Another one laughed; that one was reading from Henry V if the manager had his way. Geoffrey was quietly relieved that no one expected Prince Hal to laugh at Agincourt; it was an extremely undignified laugh. But at least he got the joke.

"That said, this is a different area of human endeavor, quite removed from your natural habitat." None of them laughed at that. Geoffrey clapped his hands once. "So we will begin in situ."

"In what?" asked the young man who was, in a tour de force of truly bad punning, their Puck. Of sorts. Geoffrey had never seen a Puck with a soul patch, but he'd been told he didn't have costuming or makeup authority, and couldn't ask them to do anything to change their presumably highly recognizable faces.

Anna had warned him that hockey players were at least as superstitious as actors doing the Scottish Play--and she'd said it in those words because she had spent too long around actors. If keeping a soul patch meant they could get through the day without anyone spinning in circles and spitting, so much the better.

"Do you know anything about A Midsummer Night's Dream?" Geoffrey asked the barely-bearded boy.

He frowned and took long enough to consider the question that Geoffrey had a faint stirring of hope in his bosom, but when Puck finally answered in a thick French-Canadian accent, the hope died. "I'm supposed to read from that one, but no. No idea."

"You're supposed to inhabit the role," Geoffrey corrected him. "One does not merely read a play any more than one merely skates in a hockey game. And you," Geoffrey snapped his fingers at the oldest, the captain, the one tasked with Hamlet for reasons obscure to Geoffrey. "You're doing 'To be or not to be.' What does it mean?"

The man shrugged. "The guy's having a bad day."

"A terrible day," Geoffrey said. "The worst of days. A day so dark he would prefer not to continue on, and I sympathize with him on that score at the moment, I assure you. However, he must go on, the play must go on, and we have an appointment at the local skating rink in thirty minutes."

Prince Hal raised his hand like a child in a classroom and waited until Geoffrey said, "Yes?" before he asked his question.

"We're not here to skate."

"No," Geoffrey agreed. "Do you know your lines?"

"We, um. Few. We--are, no, just--happy? Few!"

"Stop. Please." Geoffrey took a deep breath and did not storm out. He barely looked for a trapdoor that might let him escape, since he knew there was no such thing in the conference room. "Is that the tone of voice you use to rally the troops before a deadly battle?"

That made the boy blush, which was the most emotion he'd managed thus far. "No."

"Then it's the wrong tone of voice for this speech. Your nominally adoring public doesn't want to see you do this poorly. They want to see you the way they imagine you to be--noble warriors on the fields of war, patriots battling for the good of the country through the dubious medium of sporting events." Geoffrey waved his hand at his so-called Hal again. "Have you ever been on a stage for anything but an awards ceremony?"


"Precisely. Your milieu is the ice, so we will go there."


The camera crew met them there and hovered with their staring glass lenses, ready to shoot any footage that could possibly be useful, which included players complaining about their parts as pitifully as any seasoned actors. "Why do I have to read this speech about burying Julius Caesar?" asked the man with Mark Antony's speech on his index cards. The players were in their Team Canada jerseys, which allowed Geoffrey to identify his clueless Mark Antony as Toews.

There was only one camera watching the bench where Geoffrey sat, an unwilling coach cradling a double-double to his chest. The rest followed the players warming up on the ice.

"Because at that point in the play, he is dead," Geoffrey said, in case Toews honestly didn't know. "Caesar was trying to consolidate power."

"And that's why he was killed in the Senate. Sic semper tyrannis. Yes, thank you, I passed English. What does the speech have to do with anything?"

"Some clever man in a suit decided you should say it because your audience is more likely to recognize it than 'O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.'" Geoffrey waited for the boy to give any sign of recognition. He was not pleasantly surprised. "You can make it work for you. You're setting forth to bury your opponents, aren't you? But if you defeat them too easily, there's no glory in it for you."

Toews nodded, his mouth quirking slightly. "Praising and burying worthy opponents. I can do that."

"Yes. You're burying Caesar and you're burying the American team--and all the possible parallels between that empire and the Roman one can go unspoken, because no one will recognize more than the first few lines of the speech. To say nothing of the Russian team, who might be Cassius in this reading."

"Right." Toews drew the word out. "Sure."

The boy couldn't be much over twenty. Who knew what English courses he'd had in high school, and what shoddy interpretations a teacher had tried to pound into a bored, hyper-athletic student? Geoffrey sighed. "Forget the Russians. Forget Cassius. Stick to burying people who are full of themselves but hard to kill. Rah, rah, go team. Yay."

"Okay. Thanks." Toews went out onto the ice, mumbling his speech to himself.

"That could have been worse," Geoffrey said under his breath.


Geoffrey ran his hands through his hair and did not tear any of it out at all. "Do you have a brother? Or better yet, a band of them?" He laughed hopefully.

"I have a little sister," said Crosby; it was a mercy his jersey didn't read "King Henry V," since that would be a patent lie.

The mental image of a young girl toddling into the scrum of men on sharp blades made Geoffrey wince. "You wouldn't bring her into battle, would you?"

"Battle? No."

There was still a possibility she was a bellicose girl. "Would you want her at your side in a hockey game? Playing left wing or whatever it is you call it?"

"God, no." Crosby looked offended and hunched his shoulders as if he wanted to protect her honor.

"Sorry, okay, we'll try something else."

"She's a goalie."

"Oh." Geoffrey pinched the bridge of his nose. "What do you say to her before a game?"

If anything, that made Crosby's frown worse. "We don't talk before games. It's bad luck."

The only way to survive in a high-strung troupe of actors was to know when to get out of the way. Actors were seldom as well-armed as this crowd. "Would you look at the time. I have to go help Hamlet now."


"Delete this section. The last five minutes are off the record, since the Hamlet torture began," Geoffrey told the cameraman firmly.

"Sorry, buddy, no can do. I have to bring it all in." The cameraman cleared his throat. "They're probably not going to use it, though. Only the good takes."

There couldn't be anything patriotically inspiring about a director weeping over the delivery of a soliloquy for all the wrong reasons. Geoffrey hoped the cameraman was right, and that the editors had the sense to cut well before "to take arms against a sea of troubles / and by opposing end them," no matter how apt the line would be for hockey if it were delivered well by a Hamlet who knew what he was saying.

It hadn't been. Especially not when interspersed with the player in question--a Mr. Niedermayer--taking shots on goal, in case anyone could imagine that the speech was about anything other than being or not being a winner.

Geoffrey had only cried for a little while.


During a water break, Crosby skated up to Geoffrey. "Excuse me, Mr. Tennant, Jon said he only has to do three lines and you said they would cut most of them."

"Probably, yes," Geoffrey said, wondering which one was Jon. He'd been turning over the idea of adding more of the speech in and starting Crosby with, "Then shall our names, / familiar in his mouth as household words" and some half-assed attempt at making the players' names scan. It would be a sin against the Bard, but it might also get fans' attention.

"Why do I have a whole paragraph?"

Geoffrey discarded the concept of explaining that in verse, one spoke of stanzas, not of paragraphs. "Because people in the front office have no sense of proportion, or in fact any sense to speak of."

"Yeah, most of them have no idea what we can do," Crosby said, and nearly smiled.

With hockey teams' stratospheric budgets, they ought to be able to afford better middle management than the average theatre. Geoffrey winced in unexpected sympathy. "Well, the speech you're reading is full of familiar phrases but it's not familiar in its entirety. The lines they've given you leave out the bulk of the original speech."

"Oh." Crosby nodded. "So it's not the whole thing, it's a soundbite version?"

Geoffrey's heart leapt and he got to his feet before Crosby lost that thought. "Yes, that's an excellent way to think of it. The soundbite version of St. Crispin's Day is exactly what they want from you. I'll gather your army, we'll get the cameras in place, and let's try it again."

The one improvement in this reading over the previous ones was that Crosby smiled, but he appeared to have an unnatural ability to sound thoroughly bored while smiling.

No one even giggled at "hold their manhoods cheap," not that they should in context, but by that point in the speech they were all looking stoically bored.

Geoffrey sighed. "That was a little closer," he lied. "We'll try it again later."

"You forgot to tell everybody you're going to give it your best," Puck said, nudging Crosby with his shoulder.

"Yeah, we're playing, I mean acting, for the folks back home." Toews nodded solemnly. "For national pride."

"Hey, I'm doing my best, assholes," Crosby said.

"Can we have someone else start the speech?" Puck asked Geoffrey, his eyes too wide to make him look innocent. "Like an assist?"

"No," Geoffrey said firmly. "There's only one scene with two people in it."


The two defensemen were defensive in the extreme. "I get the part about 'He jests at scars who never felt a wound' okay," said one, whose jersey called him "Keith," a barely passable surname. His teammates all called him "Dunks," and Geoffrey had no idea how one got from the former to the latter. Or why anyone would give a hockey player a basketball player's nickname, but none of their nicknames appeared to make any sense whatsoever.

It would be easier to think of him as Romeo for all practical purposes. He was more or less the right age, and he snuck furtive glances at his scene partner often enough that Geoffrey was half-convinced the speech assignment hadn't been at random. Alas, there was nothing of the young lover about him.

"And, yeah, I'd be fucked out there on the ice without Seabsy." Keith, or Dunks, or potentially Romeo, knocked his shoulder against his teammate's. "But we're not, you know, in love. And we don't have to play against each other."

Seabsy, né Seabrook, winced at his words and not the bodycheck. "That would be fucking awful. I'm glad you're not Russian or something."

Geoffrey smiled. "Use it."

"Use what?" Seabsy looked around. His other teammates were shouting lines back and forth at each other, interspersed with curses and stick-handling practice.

"That feeling. How much it would suck if you had to play against each other."

Keith-Romeo scowled. "Yeah, but it's supposed to be, like, romantic."

"That is the core of the play." Geoffrey stood up and pointed to each goal. "You're on that side," he gave Keith-Romeo a look rather than attempt a name, Dunks, rose, or Montague, "and you're on that side," to Seabsy-Juliet Capulet. "What you want is to be together, but you can't."

"Fuck," Seabsy said, squaring his shoulders. "Okay. Let's try it. Fast. I don't want to think about this for long."


"It's getting late," Geoffrey said to his so-called Puck, who was also a Flower by any other name, or a Fleury, and therefore suited to another role--though the defensemen had gotten through their balcony scene well enough in the end, Flower might have been better off as Peaseblossom with nothing to do but chime in. "Are you ready to try yours again?"

"I will not swear this time," Puck said, making an X over his heart with one gloved hand. His goalie mask hid his expression and his soul patch, leaving Geoffrey wondering why anyone had thought he should try to act in all his gear. "And I will get it right."

"It's not just you." Geoffrey looked at the others, who seemed to have infinite energy when it came to skating and no tolerance at all for acting. "I know this isn't easy, but saying a few words shouldn't be so hard."

"Sorry. We're trying. Especially Sid."

Geoffrey squeezed his eyes shut. "Yes, he's very trying. No, that is, I know he is."

"He's just--well--" Puck shrugged. "Not very good at this. Neither am I. Sorry. We do our best."

"Could you say that again in Elizabethan English?" Geoffrey asked.

"In what?"

"Speak the speech, I pray you." Geoffrey sighed at the blank cage of the goalie's mask. "One more time from the beginning."


"I'm sorry, Mr. Tennant, but you need to clear the rink for the next practice," the rink manager said. Her eyes kept darting to the players behind him as if she couldn't believe they were in her facility. "Your scheduled time ended half an hour ago."

"This is ridiculous," said a woman beside her who was holding an eight-year-old girl by the hand and glowering with the force of a mother scorned. "Why didn't you stop them the moment their time ended? When my Mackenzie's practice wasn't finished on time, the coach had to continue outside."

"Yes, Mrs. Delong, we're usually very careful about our schedule, but--"

"But you made an exception for these theatrical maniacs, of all people!" Mrs. Delong glowered at Geoffrey. "After all the trouble you actors have caused in this town, running around like hooligans, stealing cars, and rioting in the streets, I'd hope you had a sense of shame."

Mackenzie tugged on her mother's sleeve. "Mommy. Mommy, they're not actors."

"Yes, they are, sweetie." Mrs. Delong patted her daughter's hand. "But don't worry, we'll get them out of here."

"No, your daughter is absolutely right," Geoffrey said with some relief. "Let me talk to them for a moment, and we'll be on our way."

"Immediately!" said Mrs. Delong.

"Do they have to go?" asked Mackenzie, looking from her mother to Geoffrey. "Don't make them leave."

"You have to practice," her mother said sternly.

Mackenzie's eyes were wide and heartbroken. "But that's Sidney Crosby, Mommy."

"No, dear, it's--" Mrs. Delong looked up.

Crosby waved at them, his soundbite smile looking more real by the moment.

"Oh," said Mrs. Delong.

"I think they might have a little time to talk to their biggest fans," Geoffrey said. "I'll find out."


The practice of the New Burbage Girl Groundlings began late and turned into a mob scene of girls between the ages of eight and ten staring at the hockey players and asking them to sign things.

It took all of five minutes for the throng to turn into a hockey game with hulking men dodging among the tiny children.

Geoffrey hid on the bench where he'd spent most of the day. The Groundlings' coach stopped beside him when play paused for one reason or another. She was starry-eyed under her brush cut and occasionally saying, "Wow," with an awe equal to her young charges'.

After more than enough of this, Geoffrey offered, "We're not done yet. I could take them back to the theatre."

"We have a game tomorrow," the coach said. "But they're not going to get another chance to meet players this great for a long time, if they ever do. Let them enjoy it."

"Huh." Geoffrey stood up and yelled, "Crosby!"

It was a miracle no girls were killed in his speedy arrival at the bench. "Yes, Mr. Tennant?"

"Is talking to anybody before a game bad luck?"

"No, just my sister. And some other people, but nobody who's here."

"Okay. Here's what we're going to do."


The series of commercials that came out of the collaboration had minimal Shakespearean content. The first one to air started with Toews' portentous, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," and not a syllable more, followed by crashing brass and shots of hockey players scrambling for possession of the puck.

They released the commercials out of order, to Geoffrey's mind; the second one was Puck's closing speech. It played in all its slightly halting glory over a shot of two goalies in the same goal, one half the height of the other. The taller one helped the little one up when she dove for a shot, and they gave each other a high-five.

Some bright spark in the advertising firm decided that the Romeo and Juliet scene deserved a blurry lens and swelling violins. The blurs did not make the players look any more like teenagers in love, though they did obscure a few misguided attempts at emoting. Thankfully, the ad cut to images from the most recent New Burbage production after a few scenes of pained defensemen to give viewers some concept of what the play should be.

Geoffrey turned off or ran away from the Hamlet commercial every time he saw it, no matter how many times Ellen said, "It's not that bad. Not bad enough that you have to leave the room. I'm sorry, Geoffrey, but really, we were in the middle of dinner."

He said, "I don't want to know," over and over again until he was fairly sure she believed him.

The commercial that got the most hits on YouTube, whatever that meant, was a bastardization of Shakespeare most unlike Geoffrey, as everyone from Darren Nichols to Oliver told him in a variety of tones of voice.

He waved all their objections aside. "We did the real text, too, but it never worked as well."

"Are you telling me that you, Geoffrey fucking Tennant, couldn't inspire one athlete to talk to his teammates before a game?" Darren asked, his laughter edged. "It's the easiest set speech in the canon for someone whose life revolves around the glorification of traditional masculine pastimes and raising violence to an art form."

"I'd like to see you try it," Geoffrey said, and immediately regretted the words.

He disclaimed all responsibility for Darren's made-for-TV Richard III On Ice ever afterward.

On the other hand, he acknowledged that he'd worked on the Olympics promotion. Despite the changes to the text, there were parts of it he was proud of.

Anna set one of the stills from the most popular ad as her work background until the season--the theatre's season, of course--began. Every time Geoffrey stopped by her computer, there were parts of it peeking out, reminding him that behind her endless emails and spreadsheets, there was a hockey player down on one knee in a sea of little girls, all of them shouting, "We band of sisters!" loudly enough to drown out any lone athlete, and beaming like they were about to take over the world.