Helen Keller may have been deaf and blind, but she was plenty of other things as well. Besides overcoming her communication difficulties, she also engaged in social activism and became a feminist icon for generations to come.
“Before I was cast as Helen Keller I only really knew about her vaguely,” said Morgan Beck, one of the student organizers behind the upcoming production of The Miracle Worker, directed by L.V. Rogers’ Robyn Sheppard.
“But now that I’ve done the research I’ve learned all these amazing things — she was an activist for women’s rights and workers’ rights, she travelled to other countries raising awareness.”
That blows Beck away.
“Besides being an amazing example of perseverance she was also just a very cool person that we can all look up to.”
Miracle tells the story of Keller’s relationship with teacher Annie Sullivan. To maximize opportunities for students the roles have been divvied up, with Beck and Hanah Willow playing Keller alongside three Sullivans: Ingrid Love, Shanti Harris, and Emma Chart.
“It’s really strange, because I only have like one line,” said Willow. “So it’s a different kind of acting. I’m not waiting for what I’m going to say next, I’m more thinking about what the other people are going to do and say next.”
The role requires an extreme amount of concentration, and both Beck and Willow have to rely on their physicality to communicate Keller’s struggles.
“I don’t think it’s possible to imagine what it would be like to be deaf and blind,” said Beck. “I do think I have a better understanding, playing this, but really none of us can understand what Helen Keller went through.”
Meanwhile, the trio of Sullivans are busy bringing Keller’s teacher to life. Harris gained an appreciation, while reading the script, of her character’s fierce independence.
“I think of myself as a feminist and it’s awesome to play one from that time, seeing her strength and how she was not your typical woman. She was her own person and did what she believed in, which is amazing.”
Love agrees — she’s been a long-time fan of Sullivan.
“This is a story I’ve grown up with. I’ve read so many books on Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan over the years, because I think they’re fascinating. Getting to play her is a chance to take what I know and use it.”
Chart was surprised to learn, while researching the play, that Sullivan was only 19 when she started her work with Keller. It put a whole new perspective on the story for her, especially because she’s only one year younger than that now.
“Another thing I learned was she had a really hard childhood, so she had to grow up early. She had never been able to be a child, really,” Chart said, expressing admiration for the progress the two made on a number of social fronts.
Chart encourages everyone to see the show more than once, because the multiple casting makes each performance different. Ultimately all the Annie Sullivans will star with all the Helen Kellers over the course of their six performances.
“I love that it’s about these two feminists in their time, these two women and their relationship with each other. It’s so special that we can do a play like that,” said Chart.
The Miracle Worker opens tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. It plays again Friday at 7:30 p.m., then Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.