Playwright shares behind scenes of “Bear Country”

Published 11:37 am Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On the rainy evening of Jan. 5 Michael Vigilant, a sincere and unassuming playwright, met with a small group at the North Shelby Library as part of its Southern Accents series. The subject was his play, Bear Country — a journey into the life of the legendary football coach Paul Bear Bryant of the University of Alabama.

Vigilant is also the chief operating officer of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He brought up several questions one may ask about Bear Country. One example: “Why would you write such a play, excluding Auburn fans?”

He smiled.

“I have the same birthday as Kenny Stabler; I’ve played football, wrestled a bear, and I’ve coached,” he said.

Then he explained that Coach Bryant was respected for the man he was, by folks in many walks of life. It’s clearly evident that Vigilant has become a fan of Coach Bryant and of the South, specifically Alabama.

Vigilant, a Californian, says he started out as “a jock who loved plays.” He actually began his writing career with musical lyrics. Now he has a master’s degree in journalism and has also published freelance articles.

Negative images from Alabama’s checkered past, now ancient history, still linger in the minds of many outside the state. Alabama, specifically Birmingham, has made great leaps toward change. The world hasn’t noticed. Vigilant relayed that many visitors from other states are surprised to find our beauty and culture, such as that seen at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

During the process of researching Bryant, Vigilant read 12 books on his life, and talked to 10 or more former players who gave him hundreds of untold stories. Those have been incorporated into the play, Bear Country.

Bryant started life as the child of a poor sharecropper and became an icon by setting the standards by which college football coaches are judged. The play gives you a chance to get up close, with personal memories about his life. Bryant’s wit and wisdom unfold like a symphony, and are linked with light and sound effects.

This is a play not to miss. See Bear Country in Montgomery at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Theater, where it’s running from Jan. 9 through Feb. 15. For tickets online see or call 1800.841.4273