Theatre Cedar Rapids postpones 'Tribes'

Troupe seeks to collaborate with deaf community to create authentic portrayals

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Deaf Community has spoken, and Theatre Cedar Rapids has listened.

The community theater is postponing its production of “Tribes,” after two weeks of rehearsals and protests over casting hearing actors in the roles of two deaf characters.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Leslie Charipar, the theater’s artistic director said: “In light of conversation among and feedback from the deaf community and after a great deal of conversation and soul-searching with TCR staff, Tribes director David Schneider, and the cast of Tribes, TCR has decided to postpone our production of Tribes until we can gain the support of the deaf community and collaborate with them in finding deaf actors to play the deaf roles as well as ensure that we are portraying the deaf experience in an authentic and respectful way.”

New production dates haven’t been chosen yet.

“It might be possible that it’s next year,” said Casey Prince, TCR’s executive director. “What we’re most excited about is quickly getting people plugged into the production.”

TCR will contact ticketholders; information also is posted on the theater’s website.

Those options could include workshops to promote education and understanding between the hearing and deaf communities, from sign language and culture to theater studies.

“This postponement is our sincere and earnest way to meet our mission of serving the entire community and specifically to do right by the Deaf community as we share their stories in an authentic and collaborative way,” Charipar said.

The message spread on social media as swiftly as the protests posted the past two weeks.

“WOW! Thank you, TCR for listening to the deaf community,” wrote Carly Armour of Iowa City, who helped initiate the early discussions on Facebook and spoke passionately — using American Sign Language and her voice — during a public forum Tuesday afternoon in Cedar Rapids. “This decision will not only bridge the gap between the theater and deaf communities but also create a STRONG partnership for years to come. Thank you to our community — deaf and hearing allies — for coming together to make this change!”

“We will work together to help and heal,” wrote Robert Vizzini of Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Cedar Rapids Association of the Deaf, reiterating what he said at the forum.

Prince, who attended that event, made good on his promise to take their comments back to his team, continuing a discussion already underway at the theater.

“We’ll regroup,” he said, “(and) get feedback from those who want to participate going forward.”

The cast’s reaction was “very emotional,” he said. “They were very invested in the piece for their own personal reasons. The story, the material really resonated with them. In light of the public nature of this conversation that’s been playing out, they connected with each other over a short two weeks in a way that some casts never do over multiple months. I’m certainly sad for those who are sad, but I’m very happy that they found each other and grew through the material with the limited time that they did.”

“I hope this proves to you that we were listening and silently observing,” cast member Mindy Oberreuter said via Facebook, where much of the controversy played out. “I truly hope both sides can move forward in collaboration. The very heart of theater is telling a story, and we want to tell it honestly and correctly. We all love theater that is why we are a part of this group. ... I wish you all could have seen our rehearsal on Monday night. I don’t know if the universe was telling us something, but it was beautiful. We rehearsed the second act and if you are familiar with the show’s end, you know how emotional and raw it is. It ends with love and tears and hugs.”

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