Teenage reporters cover the making of 'The Wolves' — a critically acclaimed play about teenage athletes

Jan 24, 2020 at 4:42 pm
Actors Theatre of Louisville performs 'The Wolves,' written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.  |  Photo by Jonathan Roberts.
Actors Theatre of Louisville performs 'The Wolves,' written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh. | Photo by Jonathan Roberts.

When the youth arts journalism program, Arts Bureau Edge, saw Actors Theatre of Louisville was opening Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves” — a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama about a teenage girls’ soccer team — this production, we knew, would be a perfect focus for a reporting project. This would give teenagers the opportunity to report on a critically acclaimed play that gives a window into the world of teenagers.

So, just after the winter holiday break, a small group of high school students met for a workshop after reading the play — Arts Bureau Edge had sent them the play in the mail — to talk about what we would see and report on. From there, we saw the play and developed and worked on article ideas over four sessions. They met and spoke with people from “The Wolves” at Actors Theatre of Louisville to bring these articles to you. A few even decided to also review the opening performance we saw.

Much thanks to UofL for providing space for the workshop and Elizabeth Greenfield and Austin French of Actors Theatre of Louisville for scheduling the interviews.

Special thanks to Keith Stone and Scott Recker of LEO, who practice the values of collaborative journalism and help bring the community these young reporters’ work.

— Elizabeth Kramer, founder, Arts Bureau Edge

Movement, body care underscore ‘The Wolves’ at Actors Theatre

By On’Dria Gibson Louisville Male High School, junior “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s play running at Actors Theatre of Louisville through Feb. 1, begins, with an all-girl soccer team sitting in a circle stretching from one side to the other while their overlapping conversation builds. From there, their wandering discussions often touch on dicey topics — Abu Ghraib and menstrual blood — as their bodies are in motion.

“The Wolves” is the story of a team where discussions of topics including ethnicity, boys, mental health and what’s politically correct come up during these warm-ups before weekend games.

In addition to this dialogue, movement is a key element to “The Wolves,” as DeLappe’s script indicates. The choreography audiences see on stage at Actors Theatre is, in large part, due to work by movement director Rocio Mendez, movement associate Alex Might, and soccer coach Sophia Traub. This marks Traub’s first time working on a theater production.

“I think the movement in this play, in particular, roots the audience in the reality of what’s happening,” Might said. “The movement reflects what’s about to happen and tells the story of where it’s going,”

Besides the team’s exercises during the play, there are demanding soccer moves requiring much more breath control and focus. During these moments, the characters’ conversations stop. Through passing drills and one-legged stretches the girls come together, differences aside, and work as a team.

Cast members Sushma Suha and Angela Alise had prior soccer skills, while the other cast members had not. That’s where coach Traub was able to step in to aid the girls in rehearsals. Might and Mendez said they couldn’t have done their work without Traub’s soccer expertise.

Mendez created choreography, not as in graceful ballet steps but rigorous soccer moves, that could set the tone of the scenes. For instance, one particular scene involves some extensive footwork and juggling. That scene started out with four different variations. The scene also creates a very awkward moment for player #46 (Suha) involving a rhyme.

“Of course, it’s always risky because at one point (Suha as #46) juggles the ball — you could be a professional soccer player for two decades and still mess that up because it’s unpredictable,” Mendez said.

Might said actors needed to have breaks during their six- to eight-hour rehearsals involving lots of movement and stretching.

“A lot of this play was so physical. A lot of these stretches are hard to repeat,” Might said. “And that’s what I was finding difficult — having to repeat these things over and over for a long period of time and still be good to your body.”

Mendez said that the all-female, diverse cast that focused on the actors’ physicality made this production different than others she has worked on. She also credited DeLappe’s strong writing, which perfectly captures the teenage scatterbrained mind created, in part, from social media and one-day history lessons these teenagers relayed in their discourses just before playing soccer.

“I hope we keep making plays a bit more like this — that talk about current issues, with more strong women leads and that show how physically well we can endure this kind of work,” Mendez said.

Actors Theatre of Louisville performs The Wolves, written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.  |   Photo by Jonathan Roberts. - Jonathan Roberts
Jonathan Roberts
Actors Theatre of Louisville performs The Wolves, written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh. | Photo by Jonathan Roberts.

With diverse cast in ‘The Wolves,’ Actors Theatre aims to reflect youth in America today

By Martin Sanders-Whiteley Atherton High School, senior The setting is a soccer field where a girl wearing a jersey with the No. 46 on the back makes an offhand comment to her teammates. None take it very well. Then, stretching in unison, they turn their backs away from the character, called #46.

This subtle combination of emotion and movement has been rigorously woven into “The Wolves,” the play by Sarah DeLappe that runs through Feb. 1 at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The play doesn’t follow an overt, overarching narrative but is made up of conversations, often in overlapping dialogue, between the girls during this soccer team’s Saturday warm-up exercises. Yet Assistant Director Julian Rufo and Assistant Dramaturg Kathryn de la Rosa worked with Director Pirronne Yousefzadeh and the cast to create this cohesive production. (A dramaturg is a literary advisor who has thoroughly researched and studied the script and helps the cast to better understand it. The dramaturge also acts as “the audience before the audience,” as de la Rosa put it.)

Within this soccer team, each member has her own distinct personality with none falling into caricatures on stage. For that, de la Rosa credited DeLappe’s writing and the playwright’s understanding of teenagers in “The Wolves.”

“There’s so much in the script that we really didn’t have to invent anything,” de la Rosa said. “Everything [the characters] say is so deliberate, and the really subtle relationships between the characters help to support that.”

Rufo pointed out that Actors Theatre also took steps to cast this production differently than many theaters have produced across the country. Actors Theatre specifically set out to give the production a more diverse cast by including actors of many different ethnicities as well as a transgender actor.

“A lot of productions of ‘The Wolves’ are really just homogeneous in the way that the girls look, and having, like, a diverse cast means that everybody brings something really different to the table,” Rufo said.

The conversations of the characters, who are only referred to by their jersey numbers, frequently intercut talk about serious political subjects with more casual ones.

“Having #7 be the one in the second scene, who has a strong reaction [to the conversation] about the [immigrant] kids at the border,” de la Rosa said, as an example, “it looks and sounds different to an audience who see a Latina actress do that verses, like, a white woman.”

Key to making the production work is synchronizing its dialogue — as the entire play is made up of conversations between the teenagers— with movement.

Rufo recalled matching text with movement as “something we had to find by experimenting with different movements, and figuring out how we can make that line land on that exact movement — but keep the movements light and natural, and make it feel like it’s just a happy accident.”

Despite the great differences among the characters, and the lack of one unifying storyline, the members of “The Wolves” come together as a soccer team, all bonded by the experience of being teenage girls.

“Seeing something so immediately about being a young feminine person in like, Middle America,” de la Rosa said, “just seeing characters that were so much like me is such a huge deal because in theater we are usually stuck working on, like, Shakespeare.”

Martin Sanders-Whiteley writes for Atherton High School’s Aerial magazine and reviews movies as Anthropomantic Fiend on YouTube.

Two in Actors Theatre’s “The Wolves” reprise roles as teenage soccer players

By Gracie Vanover Floyd Central High School, senior In theater, landing a role is a huge success. Landing the same role in more than one production could be counted as a double success.

With Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves,” playing at Actors Theatre of Louisville through Feb. 1, actors Angela Alise (#00) and Avery Deutsch (#2) did just that.

Deutsch played the same role in Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s production in June 2019 and Alise played her role for the first time in the production at Goodman Theatre in Chicago in February 2018.

Both said this current production gave them the opportunity to more deeply explore their characters. In a way, this was an extension of their work from their first shows where they brought their characters to life.

Deutsch described that exploration in one scene as #2, the group’s goody two shoes, when she hurts the new girl’s feelings [Sushma Saha as #46] by calling where she lives, her yurt, a “yogurt.” Deutsch said she acts by delving into her own teenage feelings and experiences during the scene’s end when #2 apologizes to #46. 

“I definitely, as a high schooler, remember a couple of times where I accidentally hurt a friend or accidentally excluded someone,” said Deutsch. “I connect to that feeling in my teenage years where I was, like, ‘I did everything to make something better,’ I apologized.”

In addition, Alise and Deutsch had to learn physical moves with Actors Theatre’s production of “The Wolves.” With this movement-heavy show, a background in soccer or another production was helpful. Both cited challenges when pairing the movement — consisting of wide range of stretches and warm-ups — with acting. With fast-paced drills during one warm-up scene and keeping track of lines, one could easily forget dialogue or mess up a move.

“For me, it’s just a strenuous show. I get tired and I just have to focus on being present with actors on the stage and focus on my lines and movements,” said Alise. “[But I’m] also making sure I’m being thoughtful and having a focus on my body and taking care of myself while doing the show.”

Overall, both women said this play — no matter the production — teaches them that sometimes females are powerful, which they often forget.

“I think this play for me has reminded me how strong I am and how strong women are,” said Alise. “The cast has been strong powerful women so that’s super inspiring and it’s reminding myself ‘Wow you can do this, this is a really hard show but you did it before, you can do it again,’ and it’s just really amazing.”

Floyd Central High School senior Gracie Vanover is Editor-in-Chief of Floyd Central Bagpiper, of the school newspaper; blogger at gracievanoverwriting.wordpress.com; and filmmaker and news reporter at Gracie Vanover Productions on YouTube.

Actors Theatre of Louisville performs THE WOLVES, written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.
Actors Theatre of Louisville performs THE WOLVES, written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.

Actors Theatre’s ‘The Wolves’ feeds high emotion by perfectly capturing teenage girls conversations 

By Martin Sanders-Whitley Atherton High School, senior Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves,” which opened at Actors Theatre of Louisville on Jan. 10, follows a high school girls’ soccer team as it performs warm-ups before playing. Through the players’ conversations, the audience learns more about each girl, gaining insight into their lives.

The characters — identified by soccer numbers rather than names — each have their own personal struggles. #46 has just moved from another country and is struggling to fit in. #00 is an intense perfectionist with anxiety. The information revealed in their dialogue never feels like forced exposition, and the actors play their characters distinctively without making them into caricatures.

Their conversations also give insight into serious world issues. Discussions of genocide and abortion mingle with gossip and recollections of past games. Uncomfortable exchanges look at foreign identity in the United States, while also providing the play with awkward situational humor, as in this short exchange.

#14: “Um, no. I already spoke English.”

#8: “Oh! OK. I guess that’s why you don’t have a Mexican, uh”

#14: “I’m Armenian.”

While the play never resolves these uncomfortable issues, this feels realistic. Still, it’s hard to tell if this works to the play’s advantage.

The dialogue overlaps, and topics jut in and out of conversations, disappearing halfway through a scene only to reappear later. This, combined with a juvenile tone and a mixture of serious and mundane topics, perfectly captures the rhythm and content of high schoolers’ conversations.

The minimalist production includes a grassy field with a white line through the middle simulating a soccer field. In the music between scenes, drumbeats mix with samples of girls’ voices to add to the production’s athletic feel but add little to the actual performances.

The decision to stage the production as theater in the round adds to the feeling of players on a soccer field. But actors are at production’s core, and each actress feels very real, drawing the audience into their world, with the ability to bring the audience into a state of high emotion, and leave them there.

Martin Sanders-Whiteley writes for Atherton High School’s Aerial magazine and reviews movies as Anthropomantic Fiend on YouTube.

Reality reflected and wonderfully portrayed, Actors Theatre’s 'The Wolves' reveals teenage girls’ stories

By Gracie Vanover Floyd Central High School, senior The lights flash off, and it gets quiet — but only for a split second as screaming girls fill the room, shuffle out into a circle and stop. Time to stretch.

Playwright Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves” takes place in an indoor soccer arena with a team of typical teenage girls. DeLappe’s play opened at Actors Theatre of Louisville on Jan. 10 in the Bingham Theatre.

“The Wolves” is such an accurate look in the world of teenagers and what it is like growing up. With discussions on topics from genocides to abortions, the girls’ everyday conversations become fields of land mines of what is OK and not OK to say.

Player #7 (Angelica Santiago) stood out with her snark and sass, and the conversations she filled with curse words (mostly f*ck). Combined with her best friend, #14 (Gabriel Elizabeth Kadian), who basically idolizes her, she is a top dog and a hard force to stop. Overall #7 is that snotty priss whom people cannot help but laugh at since she brings drama and hot topics to the field.

I adore how DeLappe gave the characters their player numbers rather than names. In doing this, she lets the audience see the girls as athletes and not characters to be sexualized or pawned off as catty girls. DeLappe’s intentions with this idea, which she has spoken about, are executed brilliantly.

Another strength of this play is how they deal with the underlying issues. None are blatantly stated, but as the girls talk, they bubble up to the surface through sensitivities to jokes or implications within stories. There, the girls reveal their struggles slowly to each other and show who they truly are. Director Pirronne Yousefzadeh’s staging paired with DeLappe’s writing makes these reveals marvelous and so clean. None of these athletes’ stories feel forced but are wonderfully portrayed.

The story of “The Wolves” is a show that throws you through spirals where you can find yourself laughing and gasping at sudden tragedies and strong character growth.

“The Wolves” runs through Feb. 1. The play contains mature language and sexual discussions.