By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Playwright Allyson Adams, former mayor of nearby Virginia City, was baptized in show business, having been born in the cradle of American entertainment: Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.
Daughter of Nick Adams, an Oscar-nominated actor that had good friends in high places—Elvis Presley, for one—Adams was destined to find a career in the field, ultimately choosing theater as her medium.
Good theater, as any longstanding patron will tell you, is not defined by the size of the auditorium, rich red velvet curtains, or the fame of the cast. When Adams first debuted “HOWL! A Montana Love Story,” a play she wrote set to premiere in its current iteration at the Warren Miller Performing Arts stage on Nov. 15 and 16, it was under far more humble pretense: it was originally dubbed “The People vs. Hairy Wolf,” and was performed by children, while an Ennis furniture store served as the setting.
The venue wasn’t Adams’ first choice, but no one else in the small Madison County town wanted to host what they perceived to be a controversial beast of performance. The year was 1997, just two years after wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, a move that set a rift between many conservationists who wanted wolves on the landscape and farmers and ranchers concerned about predation on their livestock.
“It was so controversial that rancher parents pulled their kids,” Adams said. “The school wouldn’t let us do it in their theater and the Virginia City Opera House wouldn’t let us do it, either. Pretty much no one in a 50-mile radius [would] because it was so controversial.”
Nearly 20 years later, the concept still raises ire with many livestock producers in southwestern Montana, southeastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming, but the infamous canines have thrived, bringing, in many instances, a semblance of balance to the ecosystems of the Greater Yellowstone.
Those in that first audience found a surprisingly balanced take on the issue, neither pro wolf nor pro farmer, and while the play has evolved in storyline since then, it has maintained that fairness.
According to Adams, the show is based on a specific wolf: wolf No. 39F, the “White Wolf.”
Prior to writing the play, Adams read an article about the death of No. 39F, an original alpha female for the Lamar Valley’s Druid Peak Pack, shot dead in Sunlight Basin area east of Yellowstone.
“That article got me so upset, and that’s where the play came from.”
Adams, a seasoned writer and director, has been able to roll with the punches in bringing the play to Big Sky for the first-ever fall Community Theater production.
Auditions held on Sept. 10 yielded a female-heavy turnout, and with the lead biologist character based on Doug Smith, the leader for the park’s Yellowstone Wolf Project, Adams was quick to adapt, modeling the character after a researcher at Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch.
“We ended up reading the biologist as a woman, then changed it, and it honestly works better,” Adams said.
Adams’ agility is also due in part to her sharing the creative load with Cara Wilder, an experienced Bozemanite director who has collaborated with Adams on other projects in the past.
“We moved here in ’73, so I’m not a native but I consider myself local,” Wilder said. “I moved back to Bozeman in ’95, right when the reintroduction was happening … Wolves are pretty magical animals, people have this connection with them.”
According to Wilder, the opening night of the show might be tailed by a panel discussion on the status of the population and reintroduction more than 25 years since its genesis, with panelist representation on both sides of the issue.
She’s also excited to partner with WMPAC.
“It’s the most beautiful theater, and I’m so excited to be working in that space,” Wilder said. “I was thrilled when John Zirkle [WMPAC artistic director] asked me to be a part of this piece.”
Adams made her acting debut at one year old, setting the stage for a wealth of theater and entertainment experience that has since translated into producing over 30 plays in her lifetime. Don’t miss the latest, the premiere of “HOWL! A Montana Love Story” on the WMPAC stage, as we who live in southwest Montana all have a role in the story.