Michael Vigilant's play — for which the writer consulted some of Bryant's past players and family friends — is written for a cast of four and features Rodney Clark as Coach Bryant and Gregory Jones as Young Coach Bryant, with John Patrick Hayden and Yaegel T. Welch in multiple roles.
ASF commissioned Vigilant, the company's chief operation officer, to write the play as part of the theatre's Southern Writers' Project. It received its first reading in the 2008 Festival of New Plays and has been workshopped over the past six months.
Performances on The Octagon Stage in the Carolyn Blount Theatre, home of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in Montgomery, AL, continue to Feb. 15. Opening night is Jan. 11.
The local tale, set in Arkansas, Texas and Tuscaloosa, AL, has prompted big box office so far: Ticket sales for Bear Country have hit more than 90 percent of the projected goal.
According to ASF, "Bear Country highlights the wit and wisdom of a man who rose from the child of dirt poor sharecroppers to become the standard by which college football coaches are judged. The play focuses on Coach 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." Director Tom Rhoze said in production notes, "Complex subject matters always make for interesting theatre I believe, and Paul Bryant was a complex human being. 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."
As a playwright and lyricist, Vigilant 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 catalog covers. Award-winning works include Cindy Cinderella (Page Award for Best Musical) and The Wedding Ring (MAPT Award for New Work). For his lyric writing, he has received five ASCAP project grants.
The creative team includes scenic designer Katherine Ross, costume designer Elizabeth Novak, lighting designer AnneMarie Duggan and sound designer Brett Rominger.
The theatre is offering "Sideline Specials," which make 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. For more information call the ASF box office toll free at (800) 841-4273 or go online to www.asf.net.
The nationally-acclaimed, award-winning Southern Writers' Project was founded in 1991 as an exploration and celebration of the South's rich story-telling tradition. Today SWP commissions, develops and produces new plays that explore Southern issues and the African-American experience. Through SWP, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival seeks to fulfill its mission of creating theatre that speaks specifically to the people of the region. Endowed by an anonymous donor, the Southern Writers' Project is supported nationally by generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and locally by the Central Alabama Community Foundation.
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is among the largest Shakespeare theatres in the world. Designated as The State Theatre of Alabama, ASF has been located in Montgomery since 1985 when it moved from Anniston as a result of Mr. and Mrs. Wynton M. Blount's gift of a performing arts complex set in the 250-acre Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park.