My Journey to TRIBES

What is the Tribes Project?
The Tribes Project is a performance art group dedicated to multicultural perspectives and representation. The Tribes Project produces original works and adaptions that explore race, culture, and issues of the human condition.

The project was created by J. Paul Preseault in response to the Rodney King Riots. Originally, the project toured through high schools in the Pacific Northwest, using the youth perspective as a forum to talk about race and culture in the present day.

In 2001, members from the previous 5 high school casts, known as the Tribes Alumni, came together to produce a show that would travel to South Africa. There the Alumni would collaborate with the Soweto Youth Drama Society to create “Nova Land” a performance piece that would be presented at the World Conference against Racism in Durban. Since then the Tribes Alumni have done many amazing works, both nationally and internationally.

For more information about The Tribes Project and to watch a short documentary (featuring a very young Kerrie with big eyebrows), please visit the website at:

What does this have to do with me?
I was 18 years old when my journey with the Tribes Project began. The audition was more frightening than any other one I had experienced. They wanted to see “me”, and I didn’t know who that was. So I just threw everything out there.
Being a part of Tribes is like that. You put everything out there; take risks, trust, collaborate, and create.

During our high school tour we did 13 shows in 5 days. The schedule was intense, and the show, powerful. We got cheered and booed, and both reactions were welcome, because the content of our show “Face Change” demanded a strong reaction from our audience. One night our cast stayed in this mud house. It was very literally a house built out of mud. Before we went to sleep, we had a circle and talked about our experience. There was something magical and powerful between us all that night. It was bigger and more fulfilling than anything I could remember feeling before. I knew then, I would never be the same.

Right after the close of “Face Change”, J. Paul approached me and invited me to be a part of the Alumni Cast. I knew they would be going to South Africa at the end of that summer and perform at the World Conference Against Racism. I met his invitation with both excitement and fear, but no matter what, I knew I had to find a way to go.

Once there, we collaborated and lived with the young South Africans of the Soweto Youth Drama Society. I remember when we all saw each other for the first time. We had just arrived in Johannesburg. It was late, and in a dim light we all stood in a circle, all slightly uncomfortable, feeling a bit intimidated by the other group from across the world. The rehearsal process was necessarily short. We had one week to bring it together. Each cast had created a show based on the same blueprint. When it came time to combine the two shows into one, it was nerve-wrecking. We worked for 8 hours that day. And if you know anything about Tribes, then you know the work we were doing was not around a table taking notes… or breaking up the show piece by piece. It was essentially like this: “Go!” And we did. In true Tribes fashion, we found an interconnection that I thought was impossible. We created something so fused, I couldn’t remember what it had been like before.

There are not enough words to describe the full power of our experience in South Africa, but let me just give you a picture. There was a show we did at the conference in Durban, where people from all over the world encircled us as we performed, yelling at us, chanting with us, crying with us, REACTING, getting angry, and finding hope. This is Tribes. This is what we do.
My experience in South Africa was unforgettable, and yet somehow in the midst of paying bills, making rent, and trying to be successful at my career, I DO forget. I forget how Tribes changed me, and my perspective of the world. I forget how much it means to me to be a part of that community. I forget about the memories that still give me chills when I finally do recall them, like how at the airport on our way home, we all were miserable, and someone started to sing “Shosholoza”. Instantly the entire cast joined in without fear or embarrassment. It was our way of saying goodbye to each other as we parted forever. Or I guess, what we thought was forever.

Now, 13 years later, members from each cast are reuniting in Seattle, Washington to collaborate on an original adaptation of The Oresteia: ORESTEIA UBUNTU. I have been asked to come home to be a part of it; to rejoin my cast.

I currently live in Hawai’i. While surrounded by beaches, it is not an easy place to live. My circumstances do not really allow me this journey, but I’m hoping that with your help, I may still be able to take it.

I need to reach my goal by July 1st, in order to give enough notice to the Director. Please consider donating.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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Kerrie Thornton 
Honolulu, HI
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