Monday, March 3, 2014

New Stars Shine in Tribes Production

One of the delights of the recent production of Tribes, by Nina Raine, directed by Stuart Carden, which played recently at the Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, was  the introduction of two young actors at the very start of their careers. 

The more seasoned performers did their parts well, but it was Tad Cooley, who just last year moved to the area from Texas to attend the NY Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, and Amanda Kearns, who graduated from University of the Arts in 2012, who made us care about their characters in a very authentic way. Cooley played Billy, a boy who has been deaf since birth but is just discovering sign language, and Kearns played Sylvia, a girl with deaf parents who is losing her hearing and figuring out how to cope with that.  .

Cooley, who, like his character, has just recently learned to sign, was raised in Vanderbilt, TX where “football was practically a religion.” With a partial hearing loss from an infection that is growing worse, early on he “learned to manage around it,” playing football and appearing in high school productions. The choice to drop football for theater was an easy one for him.  “I've always been a cheerful kid,” he says, “but I never felt so accomplished and happy with what I've done as when I’m on stage.”

See article on the show at: Broad Street Review

He learned about Tribes when he was performing in Act Normal in NYC, directed by another actor from Philadelphia, Stan Bahorek, who recently appeared in Nerds. For the immediate future, Cooley wants to pursue hearing roles as much as possible as long as he can. Yet for him, “Tribes is a very special play. It hits on a lot of fronts for me and I can bring a lot of my own experiences to it.”

Kearns, a newly-minted American citizen who was born in Canada and raised in Boston, came to Philadelphia to study at University of the Arts and found herself working in the theater community even before she graduated. In high school she developed an interest in signing and took classes at a school for the deaf in Boston so that when this opportunity came along, she was already able to sign during the auditions.

For her the play is an “exploration of how we communicate with each other,” with signing as one form of communication. And she’s very conscious of wanting to make sure that she comes across “in a way that is real and understood,” so that it is “possible for deaf audiences to feel part of the show with us.” She also finds that hanging out with her fellow cast members makes it feel very much like a family. “I feel like I’m sitting in my real family living room with them,” she says.

Ultimately it is their relationship that holds this play together. And the play itself can be seen as an important part of the discussion about how to make sure the deaf can be heard whether dealing with the hearing community or within the deaf community itself.

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