Davenport – The QC Theatre Workshop will present Tribes by Nina Raine beginning this Friday. Tribes tells the story of a young deaf man born into a hearing family, whose parents, wanting to protect him from feeling like an outcast, prevent him from learning sign language. However, when he meets a young woman who is losing her hearing – and who is fluent in sign – deeper questions about family, community, beliefs, traditions, and communication are raised. Exclusive pictures from the QC Theatre Workshop’s show are throughout this post.
As we scoured the internet for information about the show, one of the first sites that came up was an essay by the playwright entitled “Why I Wrote Tribes.”
I first had the idea of writing Tribes when I watched a documentary about a deaf couple. The woman was pregnant. They wanted their baby to be deaf.
I was struck by the thought that this was actually what many people feel, deaf or otherwise.Parents take great pleasure in witnessing the qualities they have managed to pass on to their children. Not only a set of genes. A set of values, beliefs. Even a particular language. The family is a tribe: an infighting tribe but intensely loyal.
And later in the essay, she writes:
All these things went into the play, which took a very long time to write. All I knew was that at the beginning we would be plunged into a family dinner. The first scene was easy to write. I wrote it with no idea of the characters’ names, or of how many siblings there were. But oddly, it is one of the scenes that has hardly changed during the writing of the play. It sat there for a very long time. And then, slowly, I wrote the rest. The crazy family was born fully formed. I just had to work out what happened to them.
In an interview with the Columbia Daily Spectator, Raine remarks on the differences in deaf people:
And so I talked to loads of people, and what was interesting was that there was such a variety of deafness. So I talked to one guy who has always been deaf– he had no speech, so he had to do it with an interpreter. And then I spoke to a guy who had gone deaf later in life. I went to a deaf school, so I met deaf kids. I talked to the parents of some of the deaf children that were at the school. Combinations of deafness, and everyone is completely different.
There’s a great profile about Raine on the wwword website. It delves deeply into Tribes, too. Billy, played by Calvin Vo, is the main character in the play.
At one point, Billy, who gets a job reading the lips of criminals caught on closed-circuit TV footage, makes up the meaning of what the crooks are saying. That story, Raine says, came straight from someone she met; the case is still being investigated. “We make Billy into an angel, an angelic, mystical deaf boy, but really he’s just ordinary,” she says. “Thematically, I wanted him to be a kind of fantasist like the rest of his family; he’s like his mother, making up stories, so while his father says, ‘We’re all creative apart from Billy,’ I wanted him to be the most creative of all of them, in a weird, twisted way.”
Tribes also won a Drama Desk award for Best Play in 2012. You can reserve seats for QC Theatre Workshop’s production here.