In 'The Wolves,' girls' soccer players show their strength

It’s winter. It’s Saturday. And somewhere in suburban America, the Wolves, an indoor soccer team, is warming up at the City Sports Dome.

In this case, the dome is a stage at the UO's Hope Theatre, where University Theatre sets its upcoming production of “The Wolves,” a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into the lives of nine adolescent athletes. Shows will be Jan. 27, 28, Feb. 3, 4, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m.

In the play, the audience is invited into the inner circle of the Wolves, a team of teenage girls who meet each week for soccer practice. While they warm up, discussions among team members run the gamut from gossip, sports and relationships to pop culture, complicated world politics and their own struggles to find individuality while being a part of a group.

“It’s about soccer; there’s plenty of soccer in the play,” said director Tricia Rodley, an instructor in the Department of Theatre Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences, “but it’s also about the conversations these young women have. It’s about them grappling with their voices and what they want out of life. It covers lot of cultural conversations we’re having currently about bodily autonomy and feminism plural and racism.”

Playwright Sarah DeLappe purposefully avoids giving the characters names, instead identifying them only by their team number, which allows the young women to be viewed as nuanced, complicated human beings rather than simply girlfriends or daughters or sex objects.

“We get a few names at the end, but in the script, they’re written by number, which is achieving what the playwright intended,” Rodley said. “It’s not diminishing them. It’s exciting because it’s not like a women’s sports story; it’s women’s sports on stage.”

Giving women athlete’s a spotlight attracted Rodley to “The Wolves.”

“The biggest thing for me as director is foregrounding women’s voices and showing their full strength at the same time so it’s not just them talking about things, it’s also this strength and power that they have,” she said. “We often diminish young women’s voices and so to have them so front and center and to have them really dealing with complex issues in their day-to-day lives is so important.”

The challenge for actors in any production is memorizing lines, but it is intensified in “The Wolves” by overlapping dialogue that Rodley said is tricky, but there’s also the physical part: convincing the audience that the actors onstage are real soccer players.

“We’ve gone over to the soccer field to kick the ball around, and we have a former student who’s a soccer coach,” she said. “Luckily, they know a lot more than me, but still, they have to share that information with one another and develop those skills. It’s been challenging, but they’ve been doing great work.”

With the 50th anniversary last June of Title IX, which provides equal opportunities for women in sports, Rodley hopes that seeing teenage girls in the context of sports, rather than another setting where girls congregate, will be inspiring. Even the team’s name denotes fierceness, a wolf pack going into battle together to win on the field … and in life.

“I think that’s purposeful on the playwright’s part too,” Rodley said. “These are strong young women doing an intense sport. There’s a tenaciousness to them, but there’s also the idea of how they work as a team. So often we have stories about women in conflict but it’s exciting to have this play about women working together as a team. It doesn’t mean they always agree with one another; there’s lots of infighting but they ultimately are getting it together.

Tickets are free for UO students, $10 for adults, and $8 for UO faculty and staff members, seniors 65 and older, youths in grades K-12, and non-UO college students.

—By Sharleen Nelson, University Communications