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The main actor in Whitefish Theatre Co.’s latest production didn’t just have to learn his lines for the play, he had to learn a new language as well.

“Tribes” follows the story of Billy, who is deaf but grew up in a family that raises him as though he can hear, teaching him to speak and read lips.

“They don’t teach him to sign because they’re afraid if he learns to sign he won’t be able to function in hearing society,” director Rebecca Schaffer said.

Billy eventually meets his girlfriend Sylvia, who is going deaf because of a genetic disorder.

“She teaches him to sign. It’s the conflict of him belonging to his family and his belonging in the deaf community,” schaffer said.

While she normally goes into directing plays without having seen them being performed by another group before, Schaffer had already seen “Tribes” in Philadelphia, where she occasionally works on theater productions, about a year ago.

“It’s one of the best modern plays written in the past 10 years in my opinion,” she said. “We need more theater like that where the audience will be on the edge of their seats.”

Work on “Tribes” began right after Whitefish Theatre Co.’s production of “The Little Prince” wrapped up at the start of March. Because the company is a community theater group, the cast is made up of members of the Whitefish community who decide to audition for a role.

“When the last show closed, then it’s casting for a brand new show, new set, new concept, new script and new set design,” schaffer said.

The main character of Billy is played by Mikey Winn, who Schaffer has worked with on multiple occasions on other performances. As part of the production, Winn had to learn his lines in American Sign Language. Schaffer said Collette Taylor, who plays Sylvia, is also a professional ASL interpreter and taught him all of his lines.

“The whole play is pretty difficult. It’s one of the more challenging plays I’ve done,” Schaffer said.

While she studied signed English in high school and is familiar with many of the signs and the context around them, Schaffer said Taylor is the one who watches and corrects mistakes during rehearsals.

To make sure the audience will be able to understand during performances, Schaffer said translation projections of everything that is mouthed or spoken in sign during the play will be displayed on a screen disguised in the shape of a window on the set.

The Whitefish production of “Tribes” will have performances April 15-16 and April 21-23 at 7:30 p.m. as well as on April 17 at 4 p.m. All productions will be at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish.

Tickets for the rest of the performances can be purchased by calling 862-5371 or online at

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