'Tribes' helps families understand deafness

December 1, 2013

Deaf since birth, Billy never learned to sign until he met Sylvia.

''She's the one who knows the deaf culture, the deaf community, knows sign language and that's when Billy himself starts to bloom and it's interesting to see what happens in the rest of the play,'' said actor John McGinty.

27-year-old John McGinty plays Billy and like his character, he was born deaf to a hearing family.

This is the second time McGinty has played this role.

''The first time I went to Minneapolis to do act in 'Tribes' at the Guthrie theater,'' McGinty said.

McGinty's acting career began only 7 years ago.

''My first professional gig was when I performed in 'Deaf West in LA,' when they merged with the hearing theatre group and when it revived Pippin,'' McGinty said.

''Tribes'' was written by Nina Raine. Director Austin Pendleton has never met Raine, but read an interview where she explains the reason she wrote the play.

''This play is very much about her family. The family she grew up in and then she imagined what that family would be like if one of the children in it were deaf,'' Pendleton said.

''I'm hoping that the audience will leave the theatre after seeing the show and ask themselves, what would you do? Because throughout the play it's not just about deafness, there are so many other communication issues, the sign language, the stuttering and all those different things. What the audience should feel is, is it right, is it appropriate, is it wrong, what's acceptable what's not acceptable,'' said McGinty.

"Tribes" premieres Friday December 5, 2013 at Steppenwolf Theatre on 1650 North Halsted street in Chicago. Performances will be held until the second week of February 2014. There will be six open captioning and five sign language performances during the production.


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