Photo courtesy of Cheryl Foster

Philosophy Professor Cheryl Foster will be starring as the soccer mom in the University of Rhode Island’s theatre production of “The Wolves” this spring.

Foster has been teaching philosophy for decades at URI, however, her background is in theatre.

“It’s quite an accident that I’m a professor,” Foster said. “I kept theatre stuff up for as long as I could through my training as a philosopher, but it soon became apparent that it would be impossible to actually complete a doctoral dissertation and keep one foot in theatre.”

Foster had planned to go back to theatre after completing her dissertation but became occupied with other opportunities that came her way. She briefly found her way back in 2008, where she submitted a play to a women’s playwriting contest in Chicago which was selected and staged.

“Pretty soon decades had passed and I had never gone back. I hadn’t planned on auditioning but they wanted to cast an age-appropriate person for this and so they asked if I would be willing to read,” Foster said. “I kept saying ‘I would go back.’ I’d never gone back other than that play I wrote so I thought maybe I should.”

To prepare for her role, she took influence from her own experience as a mother. She tapped into the fear of well-being and enormous joy that mothers take in the smallest things their kids do.

“I try to tap into elements of parenting that I think are universal,” Foster said. “ Nobody cares about you the way a mom does. I tried to tap into that acute desire for my children to be healthy, happy, kind and also to flourish on their own terms. Kind of like what we want as teachers as well.”

Foster also uses her background in philosophy to add to the essence of her character in the play. She believes that the kinesthesis of the human form in action with other people is what heightens the awareness of what the audience is seeing and makes theatre contagious.

“I think theatre is a quintessential philosophical art,” Foster said. “It is the closest we come to intimately engaging with the role of human subjectivity and the dramatization of consciousness in a larger, possibly mechanistic world. That’s why I always loved theatre.”

Despite being a professor for many years, Foster still keeps the enthusiastic student in her alive. She cites Rachel Walshe, the director of “The Wolves” as her inspiration to be a part of the role and enjoys her mentorship. Walshe is also an URI alumna and one of Foster’s earlier star students.

“I was so deeply impressed by how deep and perceptive [the cast’s] thought process was about what they were creating,” Foster said. “I was captivated by the complexity, the nuance and the reciprocity of the way they engaged with each other and with Rachel’s facilitation, grew a sense of the team and these characters.”

Foster was not only quick to shed her professor exterior and blend in with the cast, but also posed as an influential figure to them by being a dedicated performer. The members of the cast seemed to be equally thrilled to work with her, even if it was for a very short time.

“Cheryl is so funny and wonderful,” Nina Cabone, a member of the cast said. “She’s a really amazing actress. She’s only in one scene where she says her whole monologue, but when she does the monologue, it’s so powerful. I don’t know how we’re going to do that scene without just breaking down.”

The cast was amazed by her work ethic and the dedicated amounts of effort she put into everything she did. They also found her innate analytical nature to be highly inspirational to budding young artists like themselves.

“We learned a lot from her,” Caleigh Boyle, another member of the cast said. “Whenever we bring a topic that was in the play or a social topic, she would always have something to say that was enlightening to all of us. ”

Foster recalls that not being directly involved with theatre for decades was always at the center of her consciousness.  With this opportunity, she enjoys finding new ways to enthusiastically incorporate every aspect of her life into her love for theatre.

“This whole idea of ‘a play is just a play’ is nonsense,” Foster said. “This is an extraordinary edifice of intellect, perceptivity, energy and a willingness, psychologically, to go down into difficult things to use. That’s been the best part. It’s the best thing I’ve done in years, in any way!”

The URI theatre department summarizes the plot of “The Wolves” as the story of nine powerful young women of an indoor soccer team, who navigate big questions and wages tiny battles with all the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors.

“The Wolves” opens on Feb. 21 and runs through March 3 at URI’s Robert E. Will Theatre at the Fine Arts Center.