Beautiful Brawlers

We’re loving this mini-documentary about the Beautiful Brawlers all-female-boxing event in 2017, right outside of San Francisco. Beautiful Brawlers — started by World Heavyweight Champion Martha Salazar and her manager Blanca Gutierrez — provides training and promotes amateur bouts for girls and women.

The video provides a window into the mindset of boxers, snippets of conversation and connection between boxers and their trainers, and a portrayal of young boxers finding their way — perhaps not unlike Ash in her early days.


Boxing Basics

We’ve seen in our first reads of Wolf Play how boxing is important to our characters, the story, and the structure of the play. To understand more about how boxing impacts the world of the play, here’s some background on the basic structure of the sport:

In both the fight and court scenes, we hear the familiar signal: “Ding, ding, ding, Round One!” In professional bouts, the number of rounds can reach up to 12 for men and up to 10 for women. Rounds typically last 3 minutes for men, and 2 minutes for women, although there is a recent movement in women’s boxing to extend rounds to a full 3 minutes. In between rounds, opponents have one minute in their respective corners to receive coaching and physical treatment from their staff. We see this when we hear Ryan and Ash checking in during the bout, and we witness Robin and Jeenu’s support as part of Ash’s team, or pack.

Once the bell rings, the next round is announced and the fighters continue. If both boxers can make it though all rounds, which is also known as “going the distance” of the match, the fight is then decided by up to three ringside judges to calculate the scores and determine the winner.

For professional bouts, points are awarded on a ten-point scale, points deducted when fighters are knocked down or if any of their moves are considered a foul.

A boxer may win a match before rounds are up through a “Knock-Out” or “KO,” which means that the referee decides that the boxer is unable to safely continue the bout. This is often determined by a count of eight if a boxer is knocked down or in danger of being unable to protect themselves. Boxers can also receive a technical knock-out, or “TKO” which is determined if there are three or more knockdowns. If a fighter decides themselves that they’re unable to continue, they can “throw in the towel” or forfeit the match.

This video shows a match between Claressa Shields and Hanna Gabriels.

Another match to take a look at is the recent heavyweight bout that was one of the biggest upsets in the sport to date – Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Anthony Joshua. Joshua, a 6’6” shoe-in for the title, was hurt badly by Ruiz, an underdog who won with a TKO in the 7th round. (At a rematch this past Saturday, Joshua reclaimed the win.) This video below breaks down the highlights of the first match with commentary from boxing greats like Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, and Sylvester Stallone, and the athletes themselves.

The commentary showcases the intense psychological aspect to boxing. When punches are not being thrown, we see glimpses into the boxer’s mind and emotions, and then when the blows begin, we see how each fighter attempts to use the other player’s state to their advantage.

Here is a link to a useful article about the rematch that analyzes Joshua’s turn towards smarts and technically-focused boxing as a way to defeat Ruiz’s massive force. We also hear how Ruiz slacked off on training the past few months, while Joshua doubled down. We appreciate this insider analysis as it connects nicely to our in-rehearsal conversations about boxing’s mental game.

Boxing feels like a fight for one’s life — round after round, the stakes get higher and higher, until something breaks or the referee steps in to make the call. This momentum reverberates through Wolf Play, with Ash’s boxing training and bout being central to the action. Fighting is used as a metaphor for what our characters are experiencing. In the court scene, we see how the emotional and psychological fight of the sport becomes a fight for Jeenu, with the sound of the bell escalating the cacophony. We witness him experiencing this trial and interpreting what he can from the legal jargon and making sense of this tragic event through the lens of a boxing match.

Coming up, we’ll be going into more detail about the styles of fighting that Ash, and Ryan (and Jeenu) are working with, as well as the trainer/boxer relationship, and what it’s like to “go pro.” Until then, here are some quotes that line up well with the boxing in this play:

It’s less about the physical training, in the end, than it is about the mental preparation: boxing is a chess game. You have to be skilled enough and have trained hard enough to know how many different ways you can counterattack in any situation, at any moment. – Jimmy Smits

“I’m scared every time I go into the ring, but it’s how you handle it. What you have to do is plant your feet, bite down on your mouthpiece and say, ‘Let’s go.’ “ – Mike Tyson

Wolf Imagery, Part 1

Throughout the play, playwright Hansol Jung includes countless allusions to wolves in nature, wolves as symbols, and wolves in folklore.

One of the most evident ways that wolves are built in to this story is in the characters’ names.

On page 34, we learn that Peter’s last name is Hunt. We know that wolves are apex predators at the top of the food chain — they hunt animals large and small, and often as a pack that separates and surrounds their prey with great speed and strength. Wolves first stalk their prey, and then strategically select the right time and choose the most vulnerable animal to attack. This maximizes nutrition by exerting as little energy as possible.

BBC Earth
BBC Earth: Frozen Planet

Another layer of meaning that this name holds is a reference to Peter and The Wolf, the opera by Sergei Prokofiev. The opera was first written and performed in 1938, and later famously recorded in 1978 with narration by David Bowie. The opera was made popular over several albums that served as a teaching tool and gateway for children into classical music. Movie adaptations also abound, like the 1958 Disney version, pictured below. A full version recorded by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, can be found here. Notably, each character has a leitmotif, or a musical pattern that signals when they appear in the story, which you may recognize. In this version, the conductor describes the wolf’s leitmotif as, “hideous, nasty, ugly, smelly” and “scary.” Peter, on the other hand, is represented by joyful strings.

The story of Peter and the Wolf follows a young boy named Peter who, excited to explore the clearing outside his grandfather’s home, leaves the gate open unintentionally. Although being warned by his grandfather that a wolf could come out of the forest and enter the yard, Peter defiantly claims that “boys like me are not afraid of wolves.” Inevitably, a wolf does appear, and gobbles up one of the boy’s ducks. With the help of some hunters, Peter catches the wolf, and instead of killing it, parades it to a zoo. One of the morals present in this story is that courage and creativity are essential to getting solving risky situations.

Notably, in Hansol’s play, we are doubled up with Peters. First, we have the young Peter Hunt — a puppet — aka Jeenu, an adopted child of Korean origin, who is also a boy in Wolf’s clothing. Or a Wolf in boy’s clothing. Then, there is the elder Peter Hunt, a white man from Arizona — the first adoptive father, who renames his Korean son after himself. We are told explicitly by the Wolf that Peter Hunt Senior is not a member of the pack, though has been someone worth forming an alliance with.

Disney’s Peter and the Wolf (1958)

Robin’s last name, Shephard, also has rich meaning behind it. A shepherd, is literally, “sheep-hearder.” And of course, what does a shepherd protect the sheep from?

In many religions, and especially in Christianity, a shepherd is often synonymous for God. This points to the notion that humans have a divine leader who will protect them from harm and not lead them astray. Just as shepherds keep watch over their flocks at night, and protect them from dangerous predators, so Jesus protects his flock. In the Biblical parable of the lost sheep, he says:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

By imbuing character names with wolf-imagery, what do you think Hansol is potentially revealing about these people and this story? What other ideas come to mind when examining these wolf-centric names?

In future posts, we’ll be writing more about all of the different references to wolves, their natural behaviors, and their presence in culture. But in the meantime, here’s Sam Sheepdog & Ralph Wolf in Looney Tunes’ “Steal Wool,” a classic of the Sheep-herder/Wolf genre…

Where We Begin

Last night we kicked off first rehearsal in Rabb Hall at the BPL, and joined together as a cast, artistic team, and staff to hear the script come to life.

As we head into the world of the play, we’d like to point your attention to a foundational piece of background information: an extensive 2013 special report by Reuters on the world of online adoption “disruption” and “re-homing.”

A warning: the 5-part series is heartbreaking, and necessary. It discusses in detail the real life Yahoo groups that served as a forum for families who sought to dissolve their adoptions and find new homes for the unwanted “difficult” children, often without background checks for the new custodial family, and certainly without involving authorities.

As a result of Reuters’ reporting, several states introduced legislation to address these unofficial dissolutions and better track the previously untracked movements of children over state lines. The Yahoo groups for adoption reforming were shut down shortly after the exposé, but the internet trade in disrupted adoptions didn’t go away, it just moved mostly underground, into secret Facebook groups, and via a whisper network of DMs on more public-facing adoption fora like this one.

The Reuters series talks about the traumas that these abandoned children have endured, and some of the lasting impacts. We’ll be going into more detail about those traumas in a future blog post.

First Rehearsal: Actor Minh-Anh Day and a mock-up of the Jeenu puppet

First Rehearsal: Actor Minh-Anh Day and a mock-up of the Jeenu puppet