On Sunday, the Drama Desk Awards bestowed the cast of the off-Broadway production of The Wolves with an award for Outstanding Ensemble. Today, Obie and Drama Desk winner Jenna Dioguardi shares what it felt like to work as a member of that award-winning cast.
"I first encountered The Wolves in March of 2015, over 2 years ago now, when I was still kinda-sorta a student at Playwrights Horizons Theater School at NYU. I had finished my coursework a semester early, and was essentially just loitering around Playwrights until I officially walked at graduation in May of 2015. Clubbed Thumb, an outstanding downtown theater company, had just taken up residence in the same building as PHTS and needed nine young female actors to read the play aloud for a week so that our marvelous playwright, Sarah DeLappe, could continue developing it. To give you the abridged version of my journey with this project, after that week-long workshop came a reading, a short workshop production, and another reading, over the course of a year or so, all before we even began our “professional” journey at New York Stage and Film last June."
"I thought it was important to share this history, because before the ensemble – this wonderful, powerful, deeply special group of women – you saw up there accepting the Obie and Drama Desk, there were several other magnificently talented genius women who played a large, invaluable role in making the play what it was. The re-casting process from developmental stages to whatever comes next can be trying and deeply difficult for actors, especially young ones early in their careers, as we were…and still are. Actors have virtually no control whether or not they continue forward with a project, and a lot of times it can feel unfair and – to be frank – very, very sad. I say all of this because for me, specifically, these awards that we’ve been so privileged to receive resonate as recognition for every brilliant woman who has ever touched this project."
"So often, people don’t talk about the development of new work. That’s what I went to school for! It’s all I knew for four years, and it’s all I hope to continue knowing. I wasn’t really trained on “the classics” per say, and I’m happy about that. I performed in almost entirely brand new work when I was in school, and the process was always about the ensemble; it was about the team of creators. So much goes into getting a play produced, especially at the professional level, and going to these awards ceremonies has really given me a chance to take stock of my entire journey with The Wolves. It was a long one, and it was a profoundly charmed one."
"The ensemble-focused nature of this play, to me, is exactly what is at its very core. It’s certainly about so many things – the young female experience, the American experience, privilege, identity, to name a few – but stepping out to do the show every time I did it, in every iteration, I only had to focus on one thing to propel me: my teammates. That’s the fuel. As an actor, there is nothing better than trusting in your cast-mates with all your might. It’s rare! It doesn’t always happen, so when it does, you hold on tight. When I first worked on The Wolves, I was working with some of my best friends who I had just spent four years in the close quarters of acting school with. I knew I trusted them. When the cast changed a bit, I was worried…who would these new actors be? Would I be able to trust them in the same way? By some miracle (and wildly attentive, smart casting by Karyn Casl and Will Cantler at Telsey & Company), I found myself in yet another group of women I trusted, from day one, with every part of myself."
"I can’t imagine doing this play with an ensemble I trust any less than 100%. Not only did we have the very literal challenges of managing a temperamental soccer ball and lightning-speed, overlapped text, but also we needed to make sure the truths of the story and these characters were coming forward. It’s easy to see a cast of nine sixteen and seventeen year old characters and say, “okay, they’re just super bitchy and silly and dumb, because that’s what teenagers are.” We actively fought against stereotypes – both in character and story – with every read and performance. And if not everyone was on board to advocate for her individual character as a three dimensional, sensitive human being, we weren’t going to get the job done. Every time I’ve done this play I’ve known that my fellow actors are going to walk on stage in the bodies of complex, passionate young women, and that I was going to have to bring the same to the table if we were going to serve Sarah DeLappe’s story. It’s no easy feat to fight stereotype as an actor. To be recognized for the work we put in every second of every performance is tremendously special."
"At both the Obies and the Drama Desks I was approached by people in the theater community who asked me, “who are you guys?!” They just seemed astounded by this gaggle of young actresses traveling around these ceremonies in a literal pack, chanting, “WE! ARE! THE WOLVES!” upon accepting the awards. Observers have no idea where we came from, but suddenly we popped up, not as one or two recognized artists, but as an entire ensemble. That’s really what it’s about for me. We’ve done every part of this process together, onstage and off. We’ve held each other up. And I hope we’ve done something, somehow, to encourage the creation of more ensemble-based work. In my opinion, it’s the best kind."
Listen to our episode on Ensemblists in Plays here.