The man who wrote artistic director Sarah Rasmussen to complain that she’s wrecking Jungle Theater by hiring too many women is going to hate the heck out of “The Wolves,” which opens this weekend.
A 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist, the comedy/drama was written by Sarah DeLappe (woman), has an all-female cast (10 women), an all-female design team (three women), is directed by Rasmussen (woman) and features numerous other women behind the scenes.
Long story short: The blistering, intimate look at nine high schoolers during soccer practice is crawling with women who say they wouldn’t have it any other way. We sat down with 15 of them to talk about making “The Wolves,” a play that sold out two runs in New York on its way to becoming one of the nation’s most sought-after titles.
Becoming a team
Rasmussen: We didn’t require it but they’ve been meeting since August to practice soccer, which is amazing. So it’s really the culmination of such crazy ensemble dedication.
McKenna Kelly-Eiding (cast as Player #13, she’s a soccer veteran): It’s been really fun to combine this skill I developed for years with theater. ... Some of my first experiences being with a group of women were soccer: learning your place in terms of a play, how you argue, what your take on the world is. That changes sometimes when you step into a rehearsal room, but this rehearsal room has been different because it’s a reminder of being on a team. We’re equals.
Megan Burns (Player #46): It’s so incredible that we are in a space where we can collaborate together, instead of competing or ‘Oh, I saw you in that show and you were great.’ It’s such a rare opportunity to work with women your own age.
“Soccer Jen” Larrick (the play’s soccer consultant): The scene where there’s a scout watching and the scout talks to some of the girls and not others, and there are hints of jealousy and hints of pain that they weren’t chosen and hints of embarrassment that they were? That is real to my experience. But there is also deep caring between characters in the play that goes beyond “You gave me an assist today.” That’s a real connecting and a real friendship. It’s a nuanced thing to balance both caring and competition, but women are nuanced people.
Rasmussen: Theater has perpetuated this myth of women not working well together and it’s like, “How would we even know if we haven’t gotten to do it?” It’s not my experience at all. The rooms with all women have been the most hardworking, collaborative, joyful, intense spaces.
Karin Olson (lighting design): Unlike a lot of other directors I work with, Sarah’s very much like, “What do you guys think? What do you guys have?” It’s like she doesn’t have an agenda. She hasn’t figured out the show and then we help her present that. We really are coming together to figure out what the show is together.
Becca Hart (Player #7): There’s a scene without any dialogue and it’s one actor. The first time we got to see that actor do the scene we were all trying to be quiet because it’s really intense and she has to do her thing, but we were on the edges of our seats, so excited for her to jump into this powerful moment. I felt connected with everyone in the room. The whole team was there with her and we all burst into applause afterward and ran up and hugged her. It was kind of magical.
Being in an all-female play
Hart: No one tries to set up a hierarchy of gender but it permeates a room. You go to a rehearsal where you know there will be men and women, you get yourself into the head space of, “I’m ready to be the leading lady or the romantic ingénue or the hot one who doesn’t wear many clothes.” ... Sarah had all the young women meet at an actual soccer field. So, right from the get-go, all situations of a normal rehearsal space were out the door, about having to look nice or whatever. We literally just got to run around the field and bump into each other.
Burns: Most of the time I go to an audition, I have this awareness that the first way people evaluate me is the way I look, but the first way we were evaluated on this show was what we could do. That has been prevalent throughout. And [Rasmussen] makes time to talk about each of our characters. ... I felt like everyone’s character here has so much humanity and truth.
Shelby Rose Richardson (Player #25): Sarah says this statistic all the time: The majority of theater audiences are comprised of women and yet the stories being told aren’t necessarily written or directed by them. Whereas women often are in spaces that are all-women. So theater kind of “manwashes” that and makes it seem as if women aren’t thinking of each other and relating to each other and speaking to each other in an exclusive way. The actuality is it’s happening all the time. It’s just that men aren’t around.
Chloe Armao (#14): Instead of having a couple female bodies on stage and you’re getting two versions of what women are — and [they’re] often flat and stereotyped — nine female characters in a truly ensemble show gives you nine fully fleshed-out, complicated, female characters.
Michelle de Joya (#11): We all get to be so different and I love that.
Isabella Star LaBlanc (#00): I’ve been doing theater for a long time, since I was a kid, and I’m a Native person and I’ve maybe gotten called in three times for non-Native parts. So, to go into an audition knowing that it was for a non-Native part and I got to come in as myself and represent who I am and who I was when I was a 17-year-old and I existed with lots of other teenage girls, it felt very powerful.
Sarah Bahr (set/costume design): As a costume designer for nine women, a lot of times that means they’re the chorus or they’re showgirls or they’re all wearing high heels. This is soccer cleats and shin guards and uniforms. It was such a nice change of pace: I’m making these girls be warriors and athletes.
Right production, right time
Richardson: You’re not merely seeing a story where women aren’t being ignored. You’re seeing a story where female artists get to be exceptionally good at their jobs and we’re representing people who are exceptionally good at what they do.
Jennifer Blagen (who plays a soccer mom): It was so exciting to know I was going to get to work with a group of all women. As someone who has been in this industry for 40 years-plus, harassment doesn’t even begin to cover it and this is really thrilling. I think it is a sea change.
Rasmussen: It’s been a rough winter because it brought back a lot of memories of trying to be a female director in my 20s and how much harassment I had to deal with. I was told over and over again, “That’s just the business,” and no one was interested in hearing about that when I was starting out, so I think I just shoved it down and plowed forward. It’s been incredible to have this piece of theater to work on and share with others and to be like, “This is also the business.” The business doesn’t have to look like older male directors and artistic directors harassing you or stereotyping your abilities because you’re a young female artist. So I’m inspired by these women on a daily basis. I think we are at the forefront of something.