Stagecrafters explores deaf community and choices with new show

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Royal Oak Review | Published October 8, 2014


ROYAL OAK — It’s amazing how deeply words can affect us — even when we can’t hear them.

That’s the emotional topic Stagecrafters actors will take on with their newest show, “Tribes.” The award-winning drama follows lead character Billy, who was born deaf into a hearing family, as he reflects on the way he was raised in a highly verbal household where sign language was discouraged.

When Billy meets Sylvia, he’s introduced to a deaf community and begins to question his allegiance to his own family — or tribe.

Mary Ann McCourt, executive director of Stagecrafters, said “Tribes” will be a unique undertaking for the theater company in several ways.

“We’re going to have two (American Sign Language) interpreted performances for this show, which is unusual for us, because of the subject matter, which deals with how the deaf are raised either in a signing world or in an oral world,” said McCourt. “It’s a lesson for the hearing community, but also I think the deaf community will be able to relate.”

“Tribes” will be the first show presented on the theater’s second stage this weekend and stars Paul Calandra, of Chesterfield, who himself is deaf. Director Amy Schell, of Royal Oak, said Calandra’s authentic contribution to the show, along with moving performances by the rest of the cast, make the piece special.

“I’m really pleased with it. The dedication and generosity of the cast, their willingness to explore all of their feelings about the subject of having a deaf family member, is just really interesting,” said Schell.

She went on to explain why she decided to take on the play, which was recommended to her by two fellow Stagecrafters members who saw the show independently of each other at other venues.

“It’s a thinking piece and really an exercise in exploring the outcome of the decisions we make, but way down the road,” said Schell. “The parents of this deaf child decided, in order to not stigmatize him for being deaf, to raise him orally by forcing him to speak and read lips. They thought signing would draw more attention to him in a negative way and make him less a part of society. But they find out that he didn’t particularly like that choice, though he doesn’t realize it until he is an adult. He looks back and realizes he wasn’t really included in a lot of family discussions and that sort of thing.”

The show also will serve as a pilot for a new program Stagecrafters will offer for its black box theater productions called “Pay What You Can” night. Beginning with the first performance of “Tribes,” the company will offer guests the option to see the final dress rehearsal performance of shows in the second theater at a discounted rate.

“We’re letting people pay what they can either in cash or with a $5 minimum on a credit card. We’re really excited about eliminating that economic barrier for people who think theater is too much money,” said McCourt. “We’re hoping to get a younger audience to attend; it might be a good fit for them. Come and see the show and pay what you like.”

Pay What You Can night falls on Oct. 8 for “Tribes,” which will then run Oct. 10-12, and 16-19. Shows start at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. for Sunday matinees.

Advance tickets for performances are $16 and can be purchased online at or by phone at (248) 541-6430. Tickets will be available at the door for $18 each.

Stagecrafters is located within The Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette Ave. in downtown Royal Oak.