'Tribes' actress stresses strength


Throughout her burgeoning acting career, Amanda Kearns has scored roles that have not found her overtly attempting to elicit viewers’ sympathy. Enthusiastic about emitting emotions, the 23-year-old has tapped into her affinity for novelty and vulnerability in portraying her most charming character, Sylvia, in “Tribes,” a largely lauded tale of communicating at all costs.

“She doesn’t throw up any walls and disarms with honesty,” the resident of the 1600 block of Reed Street said last week at the Philadelphia Theatre Co.’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre, which is staging the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Best New Play winner through Feb. 23. “I’m striving to help audiences to fall for her, which really is not that hard to do considering how genuine she is.”

The Newbold inhabitant had yearned for an engrossing part since her graduation from the University of the Arts nearly two years ago and is fulfilling her wish courtesy of English playwright Nina Raine. Handling her assignment initially proved nerve-racking, as it presented a clear evolution in her professional goals, but the thriving thespian has silenced apprehension in presenting Sylvia, who, while losing her hearing, becomes the object of affection for a young deaf man whose family favors talking to listening.

“Her closest connections have essentially come from the deaf community,” Kearns said. “Billy has a big whirlwind of a family; it’s passionate, funny and intellectual, but not without its flaws, so I’m trying to let people see how real everyone is and to bring an honesty to her situation that reinforces that despite setbacks, people will figure out ways to communicate.”

In being an advocate for perseverance, Sylvia essentially earns placement in a second clan, thus reinforcing the figurative nature of the play’s title, a reminder not to limit oneself in determining the groups to which one belongs or could join. Kearns has praised the characters for their visceral navigation of life, a characteristic that initially compelled her to pursue a role as one such absorbing persona.

“I’d known a bit about it,” the actress said of the piece, also a recipient of the London-based Off West End Theatre Award. “The draw was really a chance to stress the idea of never forgetting the value of communicating. The signing aspect was interesting, too, and something that really pulled me in the direction of needing to help this story to reach the local scene because with all the praise it’s receiving, the play really speaks to the values of acceptance, both of self and others, and openness.”

Kearns has perpetually permitted herself to feel she could exude the aforementioned qualities and many others. The Ontario native began her life in the United States just outside of Boston and honed infatuations with gaining artistic and athletic distinction.

“My interest in performing really hit me when my sister (Natalie) did a production of ‘Cabaret,’” she said of familial influence on her vocation. “I started auditioning in high school, and I would say everything sort of clicked for me as a junior in high school, and I began to envision acting as my career.”

Adding that adorning stages “just kind of seemed right,” the energetic entertainer, who suffered a knee injury that crippled her soccer aspirations, deliberated over which postsecondary education site would best test her talent, with New York University and the Massachusetts-based Emerson College among the candidates. She made her first trip to Philadelphia for her University of the Arts audition, and it soon became curtains for the others.

“I was so adamant about going there,” Kearns said of the Center City-situated haven for budding artists. “I gained so much perspective there, too.”

Immersing herself in her studies, which included tutelage under fellow Newbold dweller and Barrymore Award winner Aaron Cromie, she came to consider the location an immediate gateway to meritorious projects, with her dedication yielding roles in such productions as “The Seagull,” which sated her fondness for Anton Chekhov, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and “A Christmas Carol” as the miser-turned-humanitarian Ebenezer Scrooge. Junior year bred thoughts on what post-collegiate life might involve, but Kearns knew nothing could keep her from establishing a local presence.

“The city is so passionate about the arts, and I love being where I am because there are so many people who are thrilled about presenting amazing works,” the soon-to-be Actors’ Equity Association member, who has lived in South Philly since June ’12, said of the community that she and her peers have forged.

Her journey has endowed her with opportunities to align her skills with those of performers whom she had long admired, including the forces behind Applied Mechanics, whom she assisted as Talleyrand in April’s remount of “Vainglorious: The Epic Feats of Notable Persons in Europe after the Revolution” for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. Other tasks have included a ’12 FringeArts Festival role and jobs with Bright Light Theatre Co., Hybridge Arts Collective and RebelYard Collective, with her Philadelphia Theatre Co. employment marking her breakthrough.

“It’s definitely a place I’ve been proud to help,” she said of the 40-year-old venue. “I’d definitely like to work here again and get my foot in the door of other places, too.”

Taking on a hearing impaired young adult as her thus-far standout role, Kearns has become even more appreciative for her unhindered inspection of life and its offerings.

“No matter what we face, though,” she said, “we can’t forget to speak out.” 

For tickets, visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.

Contact Managing Editor Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.