"Bear Country," a new play about the legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear Bryant," opens Jan. 9 in Montgomery's Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The final show will be Feb. 15.
The play was commissioned by the theater. Michael Vigilant wrote it as part of the ASF's Southern Writers' Project. The first staged reading was during the 2008 Festival of New Plays and it has been workshopped the past six months.
Vigilant interviewed Bryant's past players and friends of his family while researching the play.
"Bear Country" highlights the wit and wisdom of a man who rose from the child of poor sharecroppers to become the standard by which college football coaches are judged. It focuses on Bryant’s characteristic leadership style and reveals some of the lesser known anecdotes and stories about his life and career, chronicling his evolution from a young man driven by poverty into an inspiring leader who left an indelible mark on the lives of his players and associates.
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“Complex subject matters always make for interesting theatre I believe, and Paul Bryant was a complex human being,” said director Tim Rhoze. “Bryant's story had many chapters. The choices of which chapters to present and how to present them were crucial to the goal of telling the story in an entertaining way; so, there is a slightly unorthodox approach to the staging – one in which we adventure into the mind of the man and journey with him through life-changing events, good and bad; funny and sad.”
Vigilant, the ASF’s chief operating officer, has been involved with writing and producing plays and musicals for more than 20 years. As a playwright and lyricist he has more than a dozen works published with Samuel French, Contemporary Drama Service and Pioneer Drama Service. Five of his plays have been picked as catalogue covers. Award-winning works include "Cindy Cinderella" and "The Wedding Ring." For his lyric writing efforts Vigilant has received five ASCAP project grants. Before coming to ASF, he was a playwright resident and public relations manager for Michigan’s Meadow Brook Theatre, where he worked with ASF’s current artistic director Geoffrey Sherman.
"Bear Country" features a cast of four, including Rodney Clark as Coach Bryant and Gregory Jones as Young Coach Bryant, with John Patrick Hayden and Yaegel T. Welch in multiple roles.
Preliminary ticket sales for Bear Country have been brisk, currently exceeding 90% of the projected goal. The theatre is offering “Sideline Specials” which making a half-price ticket available with the purchase of a full price adult ticket on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Jan. 23. Regular price tickets are $42.
The play is recommended for ages 12 and older; children 5 and younger will not be admitted into the theater.
Call the ASF Box Office toll free at 800-841-4273 or go towww.asf.net