BWW Feature: UCO Presents the Compelling Play TRIBES

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BWW Feature: UCO Presents the Compelling Play TRIBES

Nina Raine's 2010 play Tribes tells the story of Billy, a deaf boy raised in a hearing family. Without access to Sign language, Billy grows up lipreading. While his family believes their communication is fine, Billy is missing out on true connection by not being able to Sign. Billy meets Sylvia, a girl who has had quite the opposite experience in life. Sylvia, who is losing her hearing herself, has been raised by deaf parents and grown up immersed in deaf culture. Sylvia teaches Billy Sign Language and introduces him to the tribe he's belonged to all along. This powerful play explores the differences between two cultures, while telling the story of one family and how they grapple with love, acceptance, and understanding.

Gavin Thomas Drew plays Billy, and his personal story intertwines with his character's in a unique way. He answered some questions about the play and filled me in on the importance of this story. His exclusive Q&A is below:

AP: Tell us about Tribes! What do you love about it and why do you think it's so relevant to be doing this show now?

GTD: This show is important because it's rare for deaf stories to be told on stage. It's a character study in what divides us and what brings us together. This story and its examination of the often-separate worlds between hearing and deaf culture speaks, and signs, volumes. In a world so divided, I think it's important for us to see a story about a family trying to listen to each other and get along in their own unique love language. The story, at its core, is about communication within relationships.

Gavin Thomas Drew plays Billy in UCO's TRIBES. Photo by Cole Cloutier.
Gavin Thomas Drew plays Billy
Photo by Cole Cloutier.

AP: Representation matters, and it's so important, especially in the theatre. Why is Deaf and Hard of Hearing representation particularly important to you?

GTD: As a deaf individual, it is so incredible getting to play an extension of myself on stage. While Billy and I are very different, we both spend our lives looking to combine worlds that can seem miles apart. Being deaf, yet speaking, I live it every day. Representation within the theatre is its own battle. Representation in the theatre is a really difficult thing we are battling in this art form, now more than ever.

I think it says a lot that our director, Emily Heugatter, went to extreme lengths to make sure that the actor playing Billy was portrayed by a member of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community. I think UCO should be praised for the tactfulness they have used to approach representation in this play. Other schools wouldn't be so considerate.

We are in a season of equal representation. A prime example of that is Ali Stroker, a wheelchair-bound actress, performing the role of Ado Annie in the recent revival of Oklahoma! on Broadway.

Everyone in the world is living under different life circumstances. If we were really portraying real people on stage, wouldn't we have all types of people combined and working together to tell a story? Change is on the rise, but I think the key to that change is more theatres taking the initiative and making it normal, so an audience doesn't even have to think about it or question it. Making representation normal is the key.

AP: Do you feel this play accurately portrays what it's like being "different" and growing up in a world that doesn't know how to communicate with you? If so, why?

GTD: That's a hard question, as everyone's experience is different. I can only speak for myself in saying that I do feel this is accurate in portrayal, and it's accurate telling the character, Billy's, story. We definitely don't shy away from the awkward aspects of communication within this play. Lipreading is very difficult, and even at its best, it's not always accurate.

AP: What has your experience been like learning and working on Tribes? Has it been an emotional journey?

GTD: I definitely feel deeply connected to this project. I'm joining the acting process a little late in the game, but playing a character whose story is definitely parallel to mine is almost therapeutic. I can bare my emotions on stage, and fully give myself to the character in ways that aren't always true of other roles.

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Tribes also stars Madison Sanford as Ruth, Brenna Crow as Beth, Jacob Miller as Christopher, and Hunter Wilson as Daniel. Kat Adams is Sylvia. Emily Heugatter directs.

Tribes runs February 6th - 9th at UCO's Mitchell Hall Theatre. For tickets, visit or call the box office at 405-974-3375. Tribes features strong language and adult themes, and is recommended for mature audiences.

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From This Author Adrienne Proctor