More than a decade ago, Amber Batchelor realized that she missed playing basketball. “As a kid,” she told me the other day, “I would look out my New York City window and see that all the fun in the world seemed to be happening outside on the court.” As an adult, Batchelor, who coached the actors in Flex on basketball skills, said, that “to rediscover the fun of the game I decided to show up one day at my local outdoor court, on the Upper West Side. I received a wonderful welcome-back.”
That decision led her to found Ladies Who Hoop, in February 2015. The organization’s mission is to create spaces for women who love basketball to meet and engage in friendly, non-judgmental yet competitive play. Ladies Who Hoop is involved in league play and a tournament but Batchelor said the group’s most successful program is Back to Basics, which, Batchelor explained, “is a basketball camp for adults. The women who participate have varying levels of skill but they are united in their desire to be there.”
Batchelor did something similar to Back to Basics for the actors in Flex. “The first rehearsal was on a Tuesday. On Thursday, the cast and I started working together on a court at John Jay College, not far from Lincoln Center.” In addition to leading the performers through fundamentals – passing, dribbling, the mechanics of doing a lay-up – Batchelor wanted to make all the actors feel comfortable. “We know from studies how crucial it is to make girls feel at ease in something the second they show up.”
Just as it is with those who participate in Ladies Who Hoop activities, the actors in Flex arrived with different skill levels. “I expected that this would be the case,” Batchelor said. “But I wasn’t sure how eager all the performers would be to go through an athletic-training process.”
Batchelor’s slight uncertainty dissolved quickly. “Right away, I saw a group of women eager to learn and not afraid to make mistakes. It’s so important to create an environment in which people won’t feel they will be made fun of if something doesn’t go right. I suspect our practice is similar to what goes on in a rehearsal room: if people don’t feel they can try and possibly fail then development will be more limited.”
In the LCT evening, all five starting players must be at a believable skill level in order to run a play called Flex which lends the work its title. “Often on a team,” Batchelor said, “one or two people really have game but the remaining two or three are friends without top skills but who make a contribution.” She added: “To give the performances authenticity it was crucial that everybody be at a decent level in terms of skills. I hope we achieved that.”
Batchelor was essentially the basketball coach for the production but, she said, “the actresses soon were coaching themselves – giving each other helpful pointers about how to display the basics of the game.” Witnessing that evolution, she said, was gratifying, but “the most amazing compliment I received from the actors was that they took my energy and poured it into their performances. I think that every coach or teacher hopes for something like that.”
Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.