The Belvoir is back with another season of ‘Wolves’ which sold out in 2018 at the Old Fitz and Jessica Arthur shares her insights on what it’s like to tell a female-centric story with an all female cast and crew.
Coming out of New York City and written by Sarah DeLappe ‘Wolves’ traces the experience of a team of nine girls as they step from teenagehood to adulthood, documenting their relationships with one another as team-mates on a soccer team.
Jessica Arthur returns as director after last years success at the Old Fitz with renewed ethusiam for this play that showcases real young women as they really are: varied, strong, sporty, and doggedly together and connected.
How would you describe the play in five words?
Fast, Funny, Energetic, Drills, Turf.
The play is lifted from an American context and Arthur relishes the challenges that have come with adopting the Americanness of the characters, their stressors and strains.
“I think generally in Australia we’re not very good at addressing issues head-on… Americans are very outspoken and forward in their opinions. That’s something in the play that’s almost been a struggle for us as Australians because we’re thinking ‘Gees they’re just going there, just saying it.’”
Arthur says it’s great to watch the women on stage taking on American accents and being allowed to fully embody an American persona. As Australian actors and audiences, we notice that way the conflicts between characters roll out as alien: “I do think that’s a big difference between out cultures. I think that Australians are good at making something quite serious and straight forward, a joke.”
Delappe has talked about the importance of women’s bodies not being objectified through the male gaze but instead being seen as strong and useful. Do you think Australians succeed at addressing this as an issue?
“A lot of people would probably disagree with this but I think a lot of us in Australia would also say, ‘we’re no obese’, ‘we’re not sexist’, ‘we’re not racist.’”
Although we would all like a play that is entirely focused on female experience to be a run-of-the-mill occurrence, Arthur talks about the specialness of being in a production written, directed by, staring and produced by women. Though when you dig into it, Arthur openly expresses her frustration with the all-female production being seen as anything other than normal and can’t wait for a world and a time in which all female productions are so standard that we don’t even discuss it as a feature of a play. Would we comment when a male directed male staring superhero film comes out? No!
“I’m waiting for the day that people don’t go “hey you’re a woman that’s really cool” and also “you’re doing an all-female play how cool is that” because it should just be a given that this should happen as much as all male productions, or all male casts do.”
If you’re frustrated with the deep mediocrity of female characterisation in film and television where women often serve as mere foils of men, reflected back their values and worries, then this is a play for you.
“As soon as the play starts there’s nine women talking almost simultaneously and yet everyone is keeping up with multiple conversations happening at once. It’s something that women very directly get.”
Often art that puts female experience at the centre fails to grab the attention of men and we see not enough men in the audience for these kind of shows, but the ideas in ‘Wolves’ are for everyone. Explorations of suburban isolation, modern life, the loneliness of the bubbles we operate in and the importance of finding meaningful, whole and unconditional supporting relationships.
“There are [professional soccer] scouts that turn up later in the play and that changes a lot. All of a sudden the team becomes individuals rather than this close-knit group of people who all have each others’ backs.”
“I think it’s about seeing this exact point in your life where you start to really think about your future and who you are as how you exist in relation to other people and what your place in the world actually is. I think it really reflects that for anyone in the audience, to remember that cusp between teenagehood and adulthood.”
And if you’re a young or aspiring director, Arthur confides that the best thing you can do is find the right material and the right people: “It’s always worth finding a mentor, looking to the people who really inspire you and always make the work that really resonates with you whether that be an all-female story or telling a story because the ideals and the values in it are amazing.”
The values of exploring empathy and engaging with other earnestly couldn’t come at a more topical time in the wake of our discussions around Invasion Day vs Australia this January. This play is an invitation to “start thinking not only about your own experience but also how different experiences affect other people. You may sit in a more privileged position but the only way we can move forward as a society is to emphasise and understand that not every experience is the same as your own.”