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BWW Interview: Director Shelby Lewis Of THE WOLVES at First Presbyterian Theatre

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THE WOLVES opens this weekend and runs through September 26th!

Last week, I had the honor of interviewing Shelby Lewis, director of First Presbyterian Theatre's production of THE WOLVES which opens September 17. THE WOLVES is a contemporary play by Sarah DeLappe, first performed Off-Broadway in 2016 and featuring the story of a teenage girls' soccer team as they warm-up for their games.

A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, THE WOLVES is a bold, daring play that really captures the issues of today's youth, encapsulated in both humor and emotional depth. Shelby Lewis, the play's director, has collaborated with this young cast of female-identifying actors to bring this stellar show to life for Fort Wayne audiences.

BWW Interview:  Director Shelby Lewis Of THE WOLVES at First Presbyterian Theatre
Madison Garza as 00 in THE WOLVES

"I love that this is a fiercely feminine play," said Lewis, "because it obviously has a female-identifying cast, but also talks about the myriad of veins of what it means to be female. And some are more tomboy, some are super feminine, some are boppy, some are harsh. Each of these characters are in all of everyone, of any gender, but it's nice to have a script that they feel like represents them. And that's also scary for them, because they have to be vulnerable, right?"

The Fort Wayne cast of the soccer team ranges in age from 13 to 21, which is part of the age range that Lewis loves to direct, as she works with high school-aged actors at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan over the summer. While she typically prefers Shakespeare and does very few contemporary shows, she notes that this play has a complexity to it that gives it some real heft and depth. "This piece felt just as complex and just as character-driven as the Shakespeare plays that I usually work on," she said. "It has been a joy to work with [this cast] and I'm excited for them to show the hard work that they've done, because the script is complex, and it's something unlike what they've ever done before. Most of the plays they've done have been roles for adults that productions then make for kids. But this script is made for 16-17 year old characters." Since the script was designed for them, THE WOLVES gives these young actors the chance to truly explore what it means to be a teenager in 2021. "If I had been able to do this play at 16 or 17, I would have freaked out," said Lewis. "It's so well-written- it feels like literature, and yet it's so modern that it's cool."

She also has a longstanding relationship with First Presbyterian Theatre, although this is her first time directing for them. Lewis's first involvement with First Pres was when she moved to Fort Wayne three years ago and auditioned for Noel Coward's PRESENT LAUGHTER, where she later played the role of Daphne Stillington. Since then, she's felt a strong connection to the theatrical space that First Presbyterian offers. "It's my favorite space in town because of the raked audience seating; everybody has a good seat, and yet it's still intimate... everyone feels like they can get close to the characters mentally and physically. So it was such a joy to perform on as an actor that when they approached me about directing here, I was very excited."

BWW Interview:  Director Shelby Lewis Of THE WOLVES at First Presbyterian Theatre
The show is set during the girls' weekly pre-game warm-ups.

I went on to ask Lewis what excited her most about THE WOLVES in particular. "To have something so raw and authentic, talking about the real feelings we have-- whether they're ugly or beautiful-- those are the real conversations we should be having," she explained. This piece is a bold choice for the season, especially because of its rawness and the language, but it makes perfect sense within the mission statement of First Presbyterian Theatre. "They want to spark conversations, and they want pieces that will serve the community by asking those tough questions." One way that the theatre is working towards that is by offering talk-backs after their Saturday performances, where audiences can ask questions of the director, the cast, or representatives from the Fort Wayne Women's Fund. It's a play that was made to spark discussion, so if you're interested, be sure to catch the Q&A after one of those Saturday shows.

"Because I read the script, I have seen a production of it before and was very moved, I identify with and work with this age group a lot- but there's something about a script being written for them in their voice, that they have confirmed as their voice, that puts me in a place of listening more than anything," said Lewis. Their insights sparked her gratitude for her cast, especially as she notes that they were invested in the show from day one. She said that they were open about their personal connections to certain moments or certain characters though the rehearsal process, and that they were ready for any challenges thrown at them, whether that was the complexity of the script or the literal handling of the soccer balls. "It's what you hope for, as a director- that they take care of the script and that they take care of each other. And this cast is definitely a team."

Be sure to catch THE WOLVES this weekend or during the second weekend of its run, because it'll surely be a show not-to-be-missed.

BWW Interview:  Director Shelby Lewis Of THE WOLVES at First Presbyterian Theatre
The cast of First Presbyterian Theatre's THE WOLVES

THE WOLVES is a 90-minute show with no intermission, and it runs through September 26th (Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 2 pm). The Saturday shows include a Q&A panel with Shelby Lewis and the cast, plus a representative from the Fort Wayne Women's Fund, beginning immediately after the end of the show. You can get your tickets on First Presbyterian Theatre's website or by calling the box office at 260-422-4226. First Presbyterian Theatre is located at 300 W. Wayne Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A portion of the proceeds from the ticket sales of THE WOLVES will also be going to the Women's Fund of Greater Fort Wayne. Please be advised that due to the frequent adult language and sensitive topics discussed in this play, the production is rated PG-13 and may not be appropriate for all audiences.


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