In its season opener, Colorado State University Theatre is dropping audiences into the middle of a high school athletic field, turning them into spectators for the fierce and funny production “The Wolves.”
“The play is actually really engaging and surprising in a lot of ways,” said director and CSU Associate Professor of Theatre Saffron Henke. “And the deep character development that the actors get to share really brings these teenagers and these relationships to life.”
Writer Sarah DeLappe’s hyper realistic play centers around the Wolves – an elite, girls high school soccer team. As the players warm up before their weekly games, the conversations shift from menstrual periods and hallway gossip to world events like the Cambodian genocide by Khmer Rouge. All the while, the characters experience the dramatic highs and lows of teenage life.
“Without giving too much away, the way that the plot ultimately unfolds is sort of a mystery that initially you don’t see,” Henke said. “It seems like they’re just talking to each other. But as you sit with the play, the relationships that develop and the story that unfolds is really exciting.”
With its quick banter and athletic requirements, tackling this production put Henke and the cast through their paces, she said.
Henke has wanted to do the show for years but had to postpone it when the pandemic hit. For her, one of the play’s biggest draws – the hyperrealism style marked by rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue – was also one of its biggest challenges.
“Everyone talks and moves exactly like they would in real life,” she said. “So, when you come to see the show it’s immersive in the sense that from an outside view, it will just look like a real soccer team warming up.”
Easy enough if you are the audience, but it’s another story for the actors.
“People are often talking over each other and at the same time,” Henke said. “So, the need for the actors to really listen to each other and memorize the script is tough. It’s like a train or a piece of music, once it gets started, you can’t stop it. You can’t improvise your way through it because it will throw everything else off.
“I tell the actors, ‘If we do our jobs right, people will never understand how hard this script was to learn,’” she added.
It would probably surprise people to know how many lines are things like “um” or “whoa,” said theatre major Sierra Bartt, who plays No. 13 (the characters are identified by their jersey numbers, instead of by names).
Looking the part
Memorizing such short phrases may sound easy but knowing when and how to say it at just the right moment to maintain the pace – especially while dribbling a soccer ball down the field – is most definitely not, Bartt said.
“I grew up doing musical theater, so I’m used to (multi-tasking) on stage,” they said. “But it’s definitely different to be like, ‘Oh, we’re going to do high knees and butt kicks and then go right into the scene.’”
While “The Wolves” isn’t necessarily about soccer itself, the sport obviously plays a central role in the play. In order to look the part of an elite soccer team, the cast got some help from Murray Oliver, a volunteer assistant coach for CSU women’s soccer team and a faculty member for the School of Music.
It was a fairly new experience for theatre performance and business marketing major Tiana Fuentes, who plays No. 8.
“I played soccer when I was about 2, and that was because my dad was the coach and he brought donuts,” Fuentes joked. “For the first four weeks of rehearsals, the first 30 minutes was designated for drills, warmups and extra stretches.”
The great outdoors
While the play was written for an indoor stage, Henke decided to take the play outside – and make it a free show – to connect with new audiences.
“Normally all of our productions are at the University Center for the Arts,” she said. “A big motivation for moving it to the west lawn of the Lory Student Center was to let the rest of campus see some of the work that’s happening at the UCA by bringing it directly to them.”
Judging from the rubbernecking from students and other passers-by during a recent dress rehearsal, the production is already garnering interest. It’s a welcome sight for Bartt.
“Our goal is to immerse the audience in the story, even though this is obviously not normally where you would see a theater production,” they said. “I think that it’s new and it’s fun, and I’m really glad I get to do something like this during my senior year.”
“The Wolves,” 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 through Saturday, Oct. 1; and 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, and Sunday, Oct. 2, on the west lawn near Lory Student Center. Admission is free. Audience members are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets as there will be no seating provided. Warning: This show includes adult themes and language and is appropriate for high school-or-older audiences.