“I think that most people know who Helen Keller is,” explained director Janette Gaines, “but to be able to actually see the real-life story of what the family went through brings it to a different level for the audience.”
Helen Keller was born in Alabama in 1880. At 19 months of age, she contracted an unknown disease - possibly scarlet fever or meningitis - which left her blind and deaf. This, of course, broke down any normal communication with the child, so the family spent years not knowing the best way to handle it.
Gaines can relate.
“My daughters are hard of hearing,” she said. “They don’t hear the same things we do. They also have autism, which is a lot like being deaf since they may not be aware of what’s going on around them. I had to unlock communication and understanding with my girls.”
That’s the bottom line of “The Miracle Worker:” unlocking the communication of Helen Keller.
The title character is Annie Sullivan, who truly does work miracles for the family. She had been blind and underwent surgeries that helped her to see. She was only 20 years old when first employed by the Keller family. And she went to extreme lengths teaching Helen how to communicate.
“It’s amazing how Helen Keller went through all this,” said Olivia Castillo, who plays Helen in the show, “and how Annie didn’t give up.”
Annie Sullivan refused to treat Helen like she had disabilities. Unlike the child’s family, she didn’t give in to her tantrums or allow her to act disrespectfully. She pretty much “took the bull by the horns.”
“Annie never just gives up,” Hope Hiester, who portrays Annie Sullivan, commented. “And I’m a lot like that. Her story has helped me personally get through things in my own life. I have gastroparesis, [a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of the muscles in your stomach,] which makes everyday things difficult, so everything most people take for granted is a challenge. And Annie didn’t let anything stop her, so I’ve learned from her.”
Hiester’s character is not only physically challenged by working with Helen, but also emotionally and mentally, and she perseveres through it all.
“If you want to see a story that defies all odds and teaches you the value of hard work and perseverance, that’s what this show is. And trying to make the best of any situation,” said Hiester.
Emma Montag, who plays one of the blind students, is hearing impaired, so she understands the strong messages of this show.
“Everyone’s beautiful and unique in their own way. I like to use that as awareness for other people to let them realize that just because they’re different or have something that makes them stand out doesn’t mean they should feel insecure about themselves. And that’s what makes ‘The Miracle Worker’ such a loving story, for all families, for all generations,” said Montag.
“The Miracle Worker” is by William Gibson and directed by Janette Gaines. The sponsors are Ballad Health, Ignacy Fonberg, the Law Offices of James R. Wheeler, and Sonia King/Mary B. Martin.
Rounding out the cast are Auggie Carver, Lorianne Carver, Lucy Carver, Renee Hickman, Pam Johnson, Charles Landry, Chloe Ledes, Kyle Mason, Kalliopi Papas, and Caroline Peccia.
Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 general admission, $14 for students and seniors.
The theatre is located at 125.5 West Main Street, Jonesborough, TN. To purchase tickets, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 423.753.1010 or go online to www.jonesboroughtheatre.com.