INTERVIEW FEATURE: The Wolves
Interview and Feature by Tahlia Merlino
Fun, high energy and relatable. Three (or so) words I would use to describe Sarah DeLappe’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist play The Wolves. Having missed out on the debut season last year at the Old Fitz, when I was offered not only to attend the Belvoir St Theatre preview but to interview Nikita Waldron (player #46), I jumped at the chance (and up and down with joy).
From the moment I entered the 300 seat theatre, I was transported to the hustle and bustle of an American indoor soccer pitch and before I knew it, it was kick off, literally. With DeLappe’s fast paced dialogue that ranged from tampon talk to political views, I soon realised that this show was not in any sense about an undefeated soccer team but rather a snapshot into the lives of 9 very different teenagers as they try to navigate not only their relationships with one another but the world of impending adulthood.
The play centres around the girls as they prepare ahead of each game; through the indoor soccer net set around the stage, the audience watch the characters stretch, warm up and discuss the issues that concern them. From hilarious pop cultural references such as “Have you heard of DiedInHouse.com? It tells you if someone like died in your house or something” to the consistent reference to the Khmer Rouge, Jessica Arthur curates a realistic portrayal of what it means to be an adolescent; to have opinions, ambitions, fears and insecurities.
The ensemble's performances are absolutely brilliant in what would prove to be not only an emotionally but physically demanding performance. Each actor is predominantly on stage for the full 90 minute duration yet hold their own; making it impossible for one to outshine another. Unlike a traditional linear story normally featuring a protagonist and antagonist, The Wolves shows each character in their rawest human state; you watch them laugh, you watch them cry, you watch them babble and put their foot in their mouth and because of this, you fall in love with them all.
To echo Nikita, “what’s really cool about this play is you could essentially come and watch it nine different times and watch one character the whole way through and you’d watch a completely different story almost”.
So.. although my bank account doesn’t permit me to watch The Wolves nine times over, I would truly recommend this production to each and every young person out there. It is a whirlwind of emotions. You will laugh, you will cry and most importantly; you will be taken back to reminisce on your own sporting days with pre-game orange peels.
After watching the show, I spoke with Nikita Waldron about what it is that makes The Wolves a must-see theatrical experience:
Tahlia: If I asked you to describe The Wolves in three or so words, like your best elevator pitch, what would you say?
Nikita: (Laughs) “um… dynamic, funny and moving”
T: “Ooh I like that! So as a performer, as an artist; what originally drew you to this piece? Why did you want to be a part of this production?”
N: “Originally, when they were auditioning at the Fitz, I was working with Jess in a show at NIDA - so that was number one, because she’s such an incredible powerhouse of a director to work with. Number two, when I started reading the script, instantly just looking at it, it’s so cleverly written. You’ve got no character names, you just have like the numbers on [the] backs of their jerseys, very little description or setting…the dialogue is like minimal stage direction and it just kind of all spills over the page like poetry. The characters have their distinct voices and you really get to know their characters based on what they say, when they keep quiet; There are so many details that, as performers, we get to figure out - which is really cool.”
T: Which character do you play and what’s her story?
N: I play number 46. Numbers-wise she’s the outlier, so it goes from 00 to 25 and then there’s 46 - which gives you a strong indication that she’s the outsider of the group. She’s incredibly well travelled and just wants to be part of this group because she loves soccer so much and she’s home schooled, so these would essentially be her only friends in America. However, the relationship amongst the group is so specific and quite insular; she really struggles to break the mould and become friends with all of them, and as a result makes a lot of awkward comments and constantly puts her foot in her mouth. But I think overall she means well and ultimately she finds her place in the group through soccer - but she’s the outsider, and it was hard to play her for that reason. Especially when I didn’t really know the girls as well early on in rehearsals, more than a year ago now. I definitely felt like, this is what it would feel like to be #46 - you know, the new girl putting a foot in her mouth, even just in rehearsals having to play someone who was actually being ignored on stage.
T: It’s interesting you say that actually. There was a certain sense of empathy I had in which I was able to see parts of myself and my life in the characters, having played soccer in the past - it was that orange slice moment that took me back. Did you find that same kind of nostalgia, that empathy from your own life while preparing for the character?
N: Yeah, totally. I’m sure we all have experiences of feeling a bit left out, y’know at school and sport. Interestingly I was on a soccer team very briefly - I wasn’t very good so they switched me over to soccer manager when I was on exchange in New York so I was actually able to observe 15-17 year old girls on a soccer team - but then again I was an exchange student so once again a bit of an outsider. Obviously orange slices bring back so many memories about netball and soccer and the idea that my character wouldn’t quite understand the fun behind orange slices is so bizarre! But then I'm sure culturally there were many things I didn’t quite get when I was on exchange or all through high school when you’re left out, so it did prompt a lot of feelings of past insecurities in a way. But I think the thing with #46 is that she’s used to being the outsider, so I had to play this fine line of understanding that she’s still secure in herself and has got a broad understanding of the world so not delving too much into feeling sorry for her.
T: What is such an interesting thing about this play are all the opposing concepts it deals with, such as unity and competition and love and tension. In your opinion what would be the main theme; the main take away from The Wolves for these girls and the audience?
N: Belvoir actually has this little slogan [for each show] and for the Wolves they said it’s about being "stronger together". I think that sums it up perfectly, because every character is going through their own journey, their own problems and yet somehow when they all come together they’re stronger overall. They learn that on the field and then it’s almost like they have to apply that off the field as women - as young women who are growing up and facing all these challenges and I think that to me sums it up the best.
T: So what kind of future do you see for The Wolves?
N: I dream big, so I’m hoping we’ll be touring it soon! (Laughs) I’m kidding - I hope this isn’t the last season we do together, but either way I know that the play is so amazing and its legacy will live on, so even if sadly we’re not the ones who get to do it again, I’m sure it will stand the test of time and you know, in 5-10 years there will be another #46 rolling around...
Images by Brett Boardman