Masks, particularly as they relate to individual and group identity, have long held a fascination for me. In 2005, I designed a series of masks (80 in all) representing five distinct families or tribes. A Manhattan brownstone, devoid of furniture, was the venue for a "Mask Gathering" in September, 2005. The masks came to life, endowed with the true or invented characters of the guests. This informal, social event brought to light the dramatic possibilities of using the masks and the subject of identity as the basis for a performance piece. The narrative's source is Rebecca Bannor-Addae's The Only Tribe.

The Only Tribe assumes tribalism as being analogous with issues of group conduct. It interprets inter-group activities as ritual based behavior and tribal conduct as a device of social control, a support structure, and a contribution to culture. It is a familiar theme. Family, class, interest groups and other associations, formal or casual, specific interests or agendas all form identity. All are tribes and each contributes to the fabric of society.

In the performance of The Only Tribe, the distinct visual features of the masks are employed in an exploration of individual identity and the formation of group identities. Abstract movements and dance take their lead from the geometric forms of the masks, interacting with lighting and projected images to conjure strong visual imagery. Music and sound shadows the movement and the story, simultaneously providing emotional contrast and congruency, leaving the listener in anticipation of what is to come. The Only Tribe cannot be defined by style or ethnicity. Rather, visual elements, sound and movement combine to create a unique, specific dialect.

The challenge of staging The Only Tribe is to tell a familiar story that draws on our instinctive ways of perceiving and understanding. By combining the theatrical elements of space and time, movement, sound, and visuals into an abstract narrative, we aim to provide an experience where story and the form of telling it are equally compelling, familiar and memorable.

Roland Gebhardt

© 2020 Roland Gebhardt