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SDA students perform first in-person piece since COVID-19 lockdowns

“The Wolves,” which runs from Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, is the first in-person play after more than a year of online classes.

The exterior of the new building for the School of Dramatic Arts.

For the first time since the pandemic, USC’s School of Dramatic Arts will host its first in-person production opening Thursday night.

Starting off the fall theatrical season is “The Wolves,” an all-female production written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Sabra Williams.

“It’s been an absolute joy and the script is just a gift, an incredible, beautiful script about young women coming of age and dealing with the world and all the difficulties of that,” Williams said.

The cast and crew have complied with numerous university mandates to put on a safe production amid the coronavirus pandemic. Such mandates included coronavirus testing three times a week rather than the university’s once a week requirement and wearing masks through the rehearsal process. It wasn’t until the first dress rehearsal that the women were able to perform maskless with one another.

“When the lights came up, we couldn’t stop smiling and laughing because we hadn’t seen each other’s faces,” cast member Tali Green, a theatre major, said.

Many members of the cast referenced the significance of performing for a real-life audience as opposed to Zoom screens.

“Being able to feel that immediate connection with the audience and that story you’re telling to them,” Green said, “you can sort of receive their energy, which is something you can’t do over Zoom.”

Despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented, Williams believes that the pandemic in some ways helped more people realize the importance of the arts.

“I think the pandemic seems to have helped people understand how much they need the arts in their life,” Williams said. “And so I just feel super honored to take the first step.”

The play focuses on a high school soccer team as it “navigates big questions and wages tiny battles with all the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors,” according to the SDA website, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2017.

According to Green, each scene is another week of warm-ups where the girls prepare for their game, all while engaging with each other, as well as the effects of the outside world as they discuss everything from boys to periods to social injustice.

At each rehearsal, Williams said she led the performers and crew in acknowledging that they were performing the piece on stolen land that previously belonged to the Tongva people, an Indigenous people from California who weren’t recognized as a tribe by the state until 1994.

“I hope that we can acknowledge that the Tongva people are still here, we’re on stolen land, and that we should honor their lives and the lives of people who have gone before our Elders and our ancestors on this land,” she said.

The beauty of the play comes from the acute authenticity within the writing when characterizing teenage girls, Williams said. And from that writing, cast member and senior theatre major Maddy Hookway said she hopes that audiences can better understand the perspectives and experiences of young adults and leave with a newfound or renewed sense of empathy for the teenage girl demographic.

“You’re allowed to feel deeply about everything and anything,’’ Hookway said. “I really want audiences to remember that. That everything they feel is valid, particularly for young women who often feel like they have to apologize for everything they do and justify their emotions and their reactions.”

“The Wolves” will be performed at USC’s McClintock Theatre from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.