This was originally written on April 19, 2015.
What a week. Friday April 17 was the fifth day of rehearsal, and I was sitting in the same room that was my very first classroom at the University of Alberta, for DRAMA 149. We were about to shoot a short trailer for Tribes to be distributed as widely as possible.
Nearly six years ago, I was sitting in this same room after clumsily finding my way through the odd vertical labyrinth of the Fine Arts Building. I had a general idea of what to expect in this beginner drama class given that it would be the first for many students but not my personal first experience with theatre work and play. Part of this class was the mandatory attendance and review of the three Timms Centre plays being produced during the fall term. Since it was mandatory, the University provided interpreters for those viewings just as they would for my lectures.
Of course, when I wanted to attend the other three shows in winter term, I no longer had an academic credit-based reason to go. This started off a long journey involving NICA Consolidated (the interpreting company), my personal advocacy, the Timms Centre management, and the University of Alberta. Three parties sincerely wished to provide interpreting services for these performances, but a fourth remained unconvinced: the University. I want to be clear that I don't believe this was due to any malignant ignorance, but rather due to the budgetary crises that had just begun to boil over in the province of Alberta in 2010. Those financial problems hit the University disproportionately, which only made the optional art accessibility and community participation of one student seem a smaller issue than usual.
Timms Centre sincerely tried their best to find the funding for proper interpreter accommodation, and it did work for a while. I saw a few more plays in my first and second years, but other interests naturally pulled me away and the project as a whole was somewhat abandoned before it became a permanent institution. Yet here they have chosen to hold a Deaf play with all the complex messages and political passageways to navigate that come with this type of undertaking. The staff here have shown zero trepidation in making this work, and NICA Consolidated has formed a small and immeasurably valuable coalition of interpreters who are willing to put in these hours with no guarantee of pay. This sends an unified and powerful message to the Deaf community, the University, and the Alberta theatre community as a whole.
The cost doesn't matter: if it is right, we will do it.
That aside, I'd like to comment on the actual play's progress. We've run through each scene at least once, and already started to really pin down the cues, movements, and emotions for the first third of the play. Keep in mind that my prior experience consists of leisurely high school productions with four months of preparation. Here, the sheer velocity is fantastic. My vocal coaching has also been moving me far out of my comfort zone, but it's proceeding in the best way possible thanks to my passionate voice coach, Chaslee. This is probably the most challenging part since I have to think on so many levels - remember my lines, speak on an articulate level, integrate the emotion and thoughts of Billy, and preserve the natural Deaf accent. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that I will sound different for the rest of my life.
Best part, though, has been getting to know everyone involved. My co-stars - Mathew Hulshof, Zoe Glassman, Bobbi Goddard, Ashley Wright, and Judy Stelck - are hilarious and frightfully talented. The Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager - Cayley Hanson and Lore Green - are efficient with a smile. My director, Amanda Bergen, is warm and brilliant and her drive is already propelling us full speed.
Next week and weekend are going to be challenging for me personally as I must balance rehearsal and work before my formal month away from work begins on April 27. There are some long days ahead, but I simply don't feel concerned. This is actually happening and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Addendum: As summer draws to a close on this oddly cold Edmonton evening, I wanted to reblog this post from my Wordpress blog that I'll be closing down soon. I don't have much to add except that I think the entire Tribes experience left me in a gentle state of shock. Never before have I immersed so deeply in a character and confronted issues that struck so deeply at my core identity.
During the performances, I began to experience disorienting periods of difficulty telling the difference between Billy and myself. This clearly wasn't schizophrenia or anything equally melodramatic - those episodes lasted maybe half a minute at most. I would only pause while folding laundry or doing dishes, become breathless, and have to look around to remember that I was in Connor's life, not Billy's.
After the Tribes run ended, I was pretty quiet and tender for a few weeks. My partner definitely noticed this in me. I'd inexplicably become sad or upset, but again, those episodes only lasted a few minutes.
I think this was why I haven't been in touch with my cast and crew as much as I'd like to. Like with any intense experience, I needed time and distance to let all those thoughts and feelings settle into a lasting set of memories. Now that it's nearly autumn, I hope these memories will become precursors of long term friendships with everyone that I worked with in Tribes.