“I saw Tribes in New York City in 2012,” said David Baecker, associate professor of creative and performing arts, “and I thought, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ The play is about a family who has difficulty communicating, and in some ways is a microcosm of how we communicate – or fail to communicate – as a society.”
This April, Baecker directs the regional premiere of Tribes, Nina Raine’s award-winning story about a young man born deaf into a hearing family, at the Theatre Institute at Sage. The cast and crew, comprised of Sage Theatre students and industry professionals, includes members of the deaf community.
The lead, Billy, is played by Joey Ausanio, a Los Angeles-based actor and screenwriter. TIS Artists-in-Residence David Bunce and Leigh Strimbeck play Billy’s parents. Students Camryn Beck ’20, Mitchell Johnson ’20 and Francesca Volpe ’20 play Billy’s siblings and the young woman who teaches him sign language. The crew includes an artistic director of sign to interpret rehearsals and administer American Sign Language instruction to the cast.
“I was attracted to the Tribes project because of how raw the script is. Nothing is sugar-coated or filtered, and I thought that was extremely refreshing,” said Mitchell Johnson, a Musical Theatre major from Hooksett, New Hampshire, who plays Daniel, the oldest of the three siblings in Tribes. Daniel suffers from auditory hallucinations, and over the course of the play, his mental health deteriorates as he and his brother drift apart. “The role has been challenging and will show that I am able to handle this large of a role,” Mitchell said of the professional experiences available to students through the Theatre Institute at Sage.
Camryn Beck, a Theatre and English major from Amsterdam, New York, plays Ruth, the middle child and only daughter to the family in Tribes. She described the play as “a wonderfully funny, sad, informative and introspective piece that I believe everyone can find a bit of themselves in.” She added that she is learning about craft from working with three professional actors, and also about deaf culture and community. “Joey Ausanio is an amazing actor who, along with his interpreter and ASL coach, has taught the other actors and creative team so much about the deaf experience. That cultural awareness, to me, will be such a great piece to hold onto as I move forward in the theatrical world.”
“Tribes has been such a collaborative project,” said Francesca Volpe, a Musical Theatre major who plays Sylvia, a hearing child of deaf adults, who is becoming deaf. “We are drawing from so many people’s personal experiences to bring this story to life. For example, Karen, one of our interpreters, has shared some of her experiences from growing up as a child of deaf adults with me, which I have taken into consideration for Sylvia’s character. I’m also learning so much about deaf culture. Being culturally aware is so important to our work as artists because it gives us the ability to not only communicate with those we are working with effectively, but also to approach our characters with dignity, respect, and honesty.”
The Theatre Institute at Sage’s production of Tribes runs April 13 through April 22 at the James L. Meader Little Theatre on the Russell Sage College campus, 65 1st Street, Troy. The performance on April 22 will be ASL-interpreted, followed by a talkback with ASL interpreter Karen Garofallou and Joey Ausanio.