When I was young, my Grammy, who lost her hearing before I was born, was an amazing lip reader. She would laugh at jokes I had made from across the room. I never had to consider if I was enunciating enough for her to “pick me up”. I thought the lamp that flashed in her living room whenever she got a phone call was magical and clever. The TTY phone my dad used to talk to her was a chance to show off how well I could type.
A year ago, my grandmother had a stroke. Her vision had been declining for years before it happened. She couldn’t follow conversations even in her immediate vicinity. Comments without context would have to be written down for her to understand what we were saying.
Now, she is alone.
Conversation falters as she fails to hide her misunderstandings behind a smile. She sits at the head of the table during family gatherings without speaking. She watches her family interact with each other but rarely with her.
I have never been very interested in family dramas, so my fondness of Tribes took me by surprise. When I initially read it, I was attracted to the fast-flowing conversations and the quirks of characters that reminded me of people I know. I loved that every character is flawed, and that disability is not placed on a pedestal but addressed head on.
Tribes is not a perfect show.
It provides important insights into Billy’s world but is not a universal representation of the deaf community. Often, stage directions are dismissive of sign as a language, and translations are not thoroughly considered. In bringing it to DramaTech, I wanted to build off the platform that Nina Raine provides. Each amendment to the show is intended to bring the audience closer to the characters, to have you view the world through their holistic lens.
What makes Tribes universal, for anyone who chooses to see it, is the heavy isolation Nina Raine imposes on her characters. Each one feels like they do not truly belong to their tribe. Whether they are pushed away because of disability, religion, origin, or education, they are struggling to be accepted. The groups we are members of have unspoken rules and prejudices. Tribes demonstrates the difference between equality and equity by exemplifying the toxic environments we create when we choose to celebrate diversity by ignoring it. It is my hope that, within your tribe, you are made important and not merely tolerated.