Tribes Actor Russell Harvard Finds His Pack

By Adam Hetrick
06 May 2012

Harvard in Tribes.
photo by Gregory Costanzo

He is also perfecting a British accent for Tribes. Working with a dialect coach and watching movies has helped – Russell cites the "Harry Potter" films, but it's been an ongoing process. "There was a line where I realized it's 'togetha,'" he says. "I'm still discovering some moments where I think, "Oh, that is how you say that!"

As Billy learns to sign – establishing his own place within the deaf community apart from his family – he begins to resent his first tribe for never returning the favor and learning to use sign language to connect with him. "At first, I thought why did he wait so long to realize that his mode of communication, that speaking didn't really work for him?," Harvard says. "Why wait so long if you feel something is missing? I have to get that information and know what everyone is saying, but there are people out there like that."

Casting Billy was challenging for Cromer and his team, who had been searching for the right actor for some time. The production team asked to see a screening of Harvard's award-winning 2010 film "The Hammer," which was enough to have them fly him from his home in Austin, TX, to audition in New York, where he nabbed the role.

"I did not see this coming," Harvard says of the response to Tribes, which continues to sell out performances on a regular basis. "When I read it the first time, I didn't pick up on funny how it was. But as I read it more and we rehearsed, I it really struck me."

Tribes was originally scheduled to end its run in June, but producers extended the production through September. Harvard, who says he'll return to Austin unless other work comes his way, smiles recalling an encounter with a woman he purchased a microwave from on Craigslist when he first arrived in New York.

"After I left, she texted me and said, 'Have fun in the city, it's rad.'" With three award nominations under his belt and Tribes leading the pack as the most-nominated Off-Broadway play of the season, Harvard laughs, "She was right, it really is."