Actors Train Like Athletes for Upcoming Production of The Wolves


Chris Schmucki

The cast of The Wolves get into position on the Williams Field House turf field.

Students will don their soccer uniforms and sneakers and warm-up before taking to the stage — not the field — in the upcoming Oberlin Theater Association production The Wolves. For plays and films about sports, actors often take on the persona of an athlete, regardless of whether they have previous athletic experience. This requires intense physical preparation and devotion to learning the craft of the sport that they hope to portray.

The play’s nine characters are all members of a high school soccer team, whose stories unfold through the conversations they have while doing pregame warm-ups. Much of the play’s preparation was comprised of traditional acting exercises and rehearsals — but with the unique addition of soccer practices.

“There’s nine of us and we do the same warm-up each scene,” said College fourth-year Miranda Purcell, who is playing the role of #46. “It’s a choreographed sequence of stretches and dynamic warm-ups … but we also worked with [College fourth-year] Izzy Rosenstein, who is a [former member] of the [varsity] women’s soccer team. So, she was there to be our soccer consultant.”

The play rehearsals included soccer drills, where the actors would practice passing the ball, learn how to control the ball’s movement with their feet, and perfect their form to reflect years of practice

through just two months of actual preparation. Their soccer sessions took place on the turf field in Williams Field House, where a number of varsity teams practice during the winter.

The soccer practices were an opportunity enjoyable for both the cast and its consultant, Rosenstein, who has been unable to play soccer regularly since undergoing knee surgery last semester, to engage with the sport in a unique way.

“It was wonderful to be able to continue to have [soccer] in my life in a new way,” Rosenstein said. “Everyone was really committed to learning. I enjoyed seeing how engaged the actors were with the sport. … I had to get used to the sport in this very new context, but it was cool to see the two worlds collide.”

One of the biggest challenges for the cast was performing their lines and physical movements in tandem.

“We would meet with [Rosenstein] to learn how to kick the ball and [for her to] show us how to act as close[ly] to real athletes as we could,” said Purcell. “It was difficult for me, because it turns out I am just terrible [at soccer]. There’s also so much [going on]. We’re thinking about lines and how to deliver those, but we are also thinking about, ‘Do I look like I’m actually good at soccer?’”

While the actors were tasked with emulating the movements of actual soccer players, the director, College fourth-year Carrie Babigian, was tasked with choreographing the actors’ physical gestures.

“It was hard to figure out what [the actors] should be doing if they weren’t stretching or passing. [We decided on] doing little ‘sports’ things like drinking their water or shaking down,” said Babigian.

Babigian explained that the physicality of a contact sport like soccer was vital to successfully emulating an athlete, as well as a prevailing theme throughout the play.

“There’s a lot of allusions to [soccer] as preparing for battle, like an army, and how intense [and] powerful they are with their bodies,” said Babigian. “Also, they accrue all these injuries. That physical intensity is a big part of [the play].”

Babigian’s efforts reflect the overarching question that these actors had to ask

themselves, which is what it means to act like an athlete.

“I think a lot of [acting like an athlete] is the community mentality that comes with it,” Purcell said. “We are all ‘athletes’ individually, but I think what is really emphasized in the play is how much of a team we are, and how we are very tight-knit. Getting in the group mentality and [showing] that there is one single reason why we are here, which is to play soccer. That mindset has been what we are really trying to work for.”

Audiences will be able to see these actors’ athletic endeavors onstage this coming Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Wilder Main Space.