UWSP to stage ‘Miracle Worker’
There are so many miracles in the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan – how could University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) turn down a chance to tell it?
“It’s a great story that’s really inspiring,” said Theatre Professor Stephen Trovillion Smith, the show’s director. “It has something to say … It’s really the story of empowerment of two women.”
UWSP’s Department of Theater and Dance will perform “The Miracle Worker” over two weekends, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4, and again Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 9 through 11, with a matinee offered at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5. All shows will be in the Jenkins Theater of the Noel Fine Arts Center.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $21 for seniors, $17 for youth and $4.50 for students with UWSP ID. Tickets are available at the UWSP Information and Tickets Office, located in the Dreyfus University Center concourse, by calling 715-346-4100 or at tickets.uwsp.edu.
A production for the whole family, “The Miracle Worker” tells the story of Helen Keller, who lost her hearing and sight in infancy. Doctors and her family members were at a loss as to how to help her and educate her. Then as a young girl, Helen is introduced to Annie Sullivan, a woman who herself had difficulties, and both of their lives are changed.
Many people may be familiar with the Helen Keller story, Smith said, but most are not so familiar with Sullivan’s story. She was an orphan who grew up with a difficult childhood. Nearly blind, she had a series of operations to help her see. She was educated at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.
“On her own, a young orphan from Boston, she went down to Alabama and took this on herself and created a miracle,” Smith said. “She was able to do what no one else was able to do. I think it’s a great empowering story for women, and it’s difficult to find roles where women are the center of the story.”
Keller’s mother also is shown as a strong character in the show, which Smith describes as American realism. The stage scenery is a challenge as the story takes place inside a house, outdoors, at a train station and the Perkins Institute.
“It’s hard to fit everything in,” he said. “There’s a lot of physical action” and choreography included in some scenes.
About 40 people in total are involved in the production, including 11 cast members and back stage and wardrobe crew.
“A lot of people are working their hearts out to create a wonderful show,” Smith said.
Among those is acting major Karley Scheidegger of Mount Horeb, who portrays Helen Keller, and as such has no lines.
“I have only gestures and facial expressions,” she said. “Sometimes I get frustrated, tempted to speak out, to scream. I am able to use that anger and frustration for the character.”
Acting major Elena Cramer of Waukesha practices finger-spelling words from the play each night for her role as Annie Sullivan. While the role is emotionally and physically demanding, Cramer said she enjoys it.
“The play shows us the real Annie Sullivan,” Cramer said. “She made up her lessons as she went along, she was stubborn and got frustrated. It makes the amazing work she did all the more incredible.”
Originally written for television and based on Keller’s autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” “The Miracle Worker” was adapted for the Broadway stage in 1959. It won four Tony Awards, including Best Play, and the 1962 film adaptation earned Academy Awards for the two lead actresses, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.
Television versions were produced in 1979 and 2000, and it was revived on Broadway in 2010.