'Tribes' rehearsals begin: Anytime there is an 'us,' there is a 'them'

Photos from the first rehearsal for the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘Tribes,’ by Nina Raine. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter. To download any photo for free, in a variety of available sizes, click “View original Flickr image.” All photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

Any play can be distilled down to a soundbite. Nina Raines’ Tribes, for example, focuses on a fiercely intelligent and proudly politically incorrect British family who argue a lot – but don’t much actually communicate with their grown deaf son, Billy.

That said, “This play is really difficult to distill down to a soundbite,” said Stephen Weitz, who will direct the acclaimed new play for the DCPA Theatre Company.

Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson called Tribes “a fascinating, complicated, complex play about a world most of us have no idea about. Which is an important reason to do it.” 

They were speaking at Friday’s gathering of cast, crew, staff, ambassadors and invited guests for the play’s first day of rehearsal. Tribes opens Oct. 9 and runs through Nov. 15 in the Ricketson Theatre.

All plays are about communication in some way, Weitz said. That is the inherent nature of the medium. But Tribes, he said, even more so.

Tad Cooley (Billy) and Kate Finch (Silvia) in the first rehearsal for 'Tribes,' opening Oct. 9. Photo by John Moore“More than any other recent play, this one really focuses on the theme of communication,” Weitz said. “It talks about verbal vs. non-verbal communication – which is something we all experience in our everyday lives. We’ve all heard the saying that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. But then this play introduces another middle ground, and that is signing as a nonverbal language.”  (Photo: Tad Cooley (Billy) and Kate Finch (Silvia) in the first rehearsal for ‘Tribes,’ opening Oct. 9. Photo by John Moore.)

The play also talks about how we communicate with ourselves: “The voices in our head are our moral compass,” Weitz said. “They guide us through life, or, in some cases, haunt us through life.”

He said the play also addresses the inherent limitations of language, whether spoken or signed.

'Tribes' director Stephen Weitz. Photo by John Moore.

Tribes talks about barriers to communication – the passive kind that come from our own prejudices and preconceptions; as well as the active kind that stem from our blatant unwillingness to consider someone else’s point of view,” he said.

Weitz is also intrigued by the play’s title, and what it implies. It is not called Families, after all. But rather, Tribes.

There are those tribes we are assigned, such as our families, and there are those “sub-tribes” that we choose, such as mentors, lovers and friends, Weitz said. In Tribes, the character of Billy has been brought up isolated from the deaf community. So when he meets a young woman named Sylvia, he is exposed to the world of signing for the first time, and finds a new tribe.

“The play is full of words like sect and cult and club and community and clique,” Weitz said. “And then we also hear about the exclusionary nature of tribes and communities.

“After all: Anytime there is an ‘us,’ there is a ‘them.’ ”  

Weitz, co-founder of the award-winning Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, has both acted with the DCPA Theatre Company (King Lear, Richard III, Othello) and directed (Jackie & Me). His busy autumn will include directing The SantaLand Diaries for a sixth straight holiday season in cooperation with Off-Center @ The Jones.

“Maybe the most amazing thing the playwright has done is that she has taken deafness – which is something many of us habitually think of as an impediment to communication – and used it as a gateway to open up all of these different themes and ideas,” said Weitz.

Ultimately, he said, what you try to find in your life is what the Tribes characters are trying to find in the play, and that is personal identity, he said.

“Who are we, in our own skin? That question is at the root of any great drama. And I really think this is a great drama.”

And one, Thompson added, that is also quite funny.

“Some American audiences may consider the way this family behaves to be just pure nastiness,” Thompson said. “But I can tell you, the British actually talk that way to each other.”

Tribes: Cast list

  • Tad Cooley (Billy)
  • Isabel Ellison (Ruth)
  • Kate Finch (Silvia)
  • Stephen Paul Johnson (Christopher)
  • Kathleen McCall (Beth)
  • Andrew Pastides (Daniel) 

Tribes: Ticket information
Performances through Nov. 15
Ricketson Theatre
Performance schedule: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday performances at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m. (No Saturday matinees during preview performances)
ASL interpreted & Audio described performance: 1:30 p.m. Nov. 7
Call 303-893-4100 or
TTY: 303-893-9582
Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at Denvercenter.org.

Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for the Denver engagement of ‘Tribes.’

From left: 'Tribes' interpreters Lynn Williams, Natalie Austin and Ronni Gallup. Photo by John Moore.‘Tribes’ features two characters with varying degrees of hearing loss, and so Weitz has hired some members of the cast who have varying degrees of hearing loss as well. A team of three local interpreters will be on hand daily to help both hearing and hard-of-hearing artists through the rehearsal process. From left: Lynn Williams, Natalie Austin and Ronni Gallup. Photo by John Moore.

Previous NewsCenter coverage:
Go to the official Tribes show page
Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
Casting announced for Theatre Company’s fall shows
Theatre Company introduces bold new artwork for 2015-16 season

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