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ISSUE NO. 185 -  CHESHVAN - KISLEV 5778  -  NOVEMBER 2017

Learning to hear each other

Learning to hear each other

Photo: JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Stephanie Sy assists Jordan Sangalang (right) with his sign language as Ryan James Miller looks on during rehearsal of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s Tribes.

Community plays role onstage, behind the scenes at latest Winnipeg Jewish Theatre production

Randall King By: Randall King
Posted: 10/19/2017 4:00 AM
Winnipeg Free Press


THEATRE PREVIEW

Tribes

Winnipeg Jewish Theatre

Thursday, Oct. 19 to Sunday, Oct. 29

Tickets are $20 - $40 at (204) 477-7478 or www.wjt.ca

It takes a village to run a theatre company.

That’s the takeaway from Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s production Tribes, the opening of WJT’s 30th season. Artistic director Ari Weinberg says the play about a deaf son struggling in the context of a hearing family felt like a good fit for a benchmark season that plays on the theme of "community."

It also didn’t hurt that the comedy-drama by English playwright Nina Raine was among one of many plays Weinberg frantically acquired a few years ago in a New York City theatre bookstore when, while attending a friend’s wedding, he got the news he was being interviewed for the WJT artistic director job.

"I said to the bookseller that I was interviewing for a Jewish theatre company and I told her: ‘Throw Jewish plays at me!’ And she pulled Tribes."

Further adventures: a snowstorm hit the east coast that weekend and flights were cancelled. Weinberg had to take a bus to Toronto, which took 15 hours. "And Tribes was one of the scripts I read on the trip."

When putting together the 30th season, the play struck Weinberg as an ideal way to encompass the community spirit, especially when it came time to cast the lead role of Billy, a deaf adult son who was never taught American Sign Language (ASL) within the insular world of a fractious, intellectual family.

Weinberg wanted to cast a local deaf actor in the role, and for this, he reached out to Shannon Guile, an actress best known for her work as a member of the crack sketch comedy troupe Hot Thespian Action. Five years ago, Guile helped form a troupe of an all-deaf actors who perform mime as 100 Decibels.

"I called her and said I’d really like to find a Billy that’s local."

"The moment Ari asked me if I knew anyone in the community, I got off the phone with him and thought: Well, that’s really cool," Guile recalls.

"And then I was overcome, overwhelmed with this feeling of victory," she says. "Because this is what we’ve been working towards for the past five years: our goal was getting the hearing community of Winnipeg to know about the deaf community and try to get people to understand what the community is like."

Guile made it her mission to provide more opportunities.

And in response to Weinberg’s request, she immediately thought of Jordan Sangalang, who was asked to audition opposite his co-star Stephanie Sy, who plays the young woman Billy grows to love in the process of her teaching him ASL.

That proved to be successful. After all, Sangalang, 31, has been deaf since birth and has to some extent lived the role — although he emphasizes his own family is nothing like his stage family.

"My experience as a deaf person and the only deaf person in my family was a loving and supportive one," he says over the course of two interviews (one with a sign language interpreter and one via email). Sangalang was born in Winnipeg and his parents emigrated from the Philippines.

"At first, I can imagine it was tough for them. But because they realized I flourish well in an environment that uses American Sign Language (ASL), that was the language that allowed me to succeed through life and got me to where I am now," says Sangalang, who attended the Manitoba School for the Deaf and later earned a BA from University of British Columbia and an MA at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

The family dynamic in the play, he says "reflects what most families go through.

"The majority of deaf children happen to be the only deaf child in their families," he says. "Many parents often feel overwhelmed and not sure what to do when they have a deaf child. Usually, their deaf child is the first deaf person they meet. It is often overwhelming for a lot of parents."

Sangalang’s role in the play, and in his own life, represent a spectrum of how families may react to that situation. In the play, he says, "there is a lot of tension, pride and ignorance within the family compared to my personal experience."

Sangalang says the play transcends issues of deafness.

"It resonates with (anyone) who goes through challenges and feelings of otherness, not being accepted for who they are from their parents or family members, and most of all not feeling supported and loved by the family," he says. "It will open up your perspectives on how families can communicate with each other and understand each other through love."

Tribes will be performed with live ASL interpretation on the evenings of Saturday, Oct. 21 and Thursday, Oct. 26.

Source: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/arts/learning-to-hear-each-other-451552943.html

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