The black and white words in a thick script ran wild throughout the actors’ minds as they lined up one by one at the front of the stage. Lights beamed down on their faces, highlighting heartfelt emotions. They weren’t sure how to express it, but knew they would have to soon in front of a live audience.
Vandegrift theater students have been busy rehearsing “Miracle Worker,” which opens Thursday, Jan. 17 and runs four performances.
“I kind of wanted to do a historical piece,” the school’s theater director Jon Alonso said. “Of course I did ‘Irena’s Vow’ last year, which is also historical, and I think it was a great experience. We learned something about history, the costumes were different, and even the way the characters were portrayed was different.”
“Miracle Worker” is a dramatic play that covers the unexpected story of Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf. Throughout the show, an insight to the way Keller lived growing up is portrayed. With the help of her family and teacher, Annie Sullivan, Keller learned ways of reaching others. The role of Keller will be played by junior Alex Fletcher and senior Shianne Galasso.
“I love this show,” Fletcher said. “I love the story and I think it’s really powerful for people to experience. It helps teach others how to overcome any bad thing that can happen or has happened before.”
Auditions took place in November, and Alonso said he witness some of the best auditions Alonso of his career.
“Everyone seemed to be super prepared, as far as technique goes,” Alonso said. “My focus is not about putting the most talented person on stage, it’s allowing each person to have an experience that will help them grow as actors and performers.”
One of the ways Alonso auditioned for Keller was by blindfolding the girls, throwing a suitcase full of items somewhere on stage, and having the actors find the suitcase, open it, and describe the objects inside without speaking.
“They had to rely on other senses like hearing the suitcase, feeling the suitcase and figuring out how to open it,” he said. “I hope that each one of the scenes in rehearsal is also like a puzzle, so they can figure out how things transition from physical to emotional.”
To help get into character during rehearsal, Fletcher and Galasso blindfold themselves to try and feel the frustration of being blind.
“Miracle Worker” has several physical challenges for the actors that play Keller, including throwing childlike tantrums on stage and beating up other characters. Galasso said that it can be hard to fully understand what life is like deaf, blind and mute, making it difficult to play the role.
“It’s definitely not a comfortable role,” Galasso said. “It’s very uncomfortable because I have to do things that a normal person wouldn’t do. I have to make certain sounds and do certain movements, and it can be embarrassing at points. I have to really open up and not be afraid and just go for it.”
Junior Elle Hartman and senior Gauri Bellur will play Annie Sullivan, the woman who teaches Helen how to communicate. Those actors will also endure various amounts of emotional and physical challenges.
“I’m definitely going to be bruised by the end of this show, for sure,” Hartman said. “It’s a very, very physical role, and to keep it safe, for me and her, we are just going to have to run it a bunch. A lot of things will be planned and choreographed, but some things will definitely be real. She’s definitely going to actually spit on me and throw some hard hits, but it’s all things we are just going to have to be safe with.”
For the sign language in the show, they are planning to use the Rochester Method, in which most of the signing consists only of finger spelling.
“It’s easier, yes, but I also need to make sure Alex is familiar with it and familiarize myself with all the letters I’m going to need as well,” Hartman said. “Because I am also a student in the American Sign Language class, it makes this a lot easier.”
Alonso said this show is unique because it is centered around a character that has no lines and that’s something you don’t see very often.
“This is an opportunity to get them to feel something and do something different,” Alonso said. “For me, I want to capture the feeling that’s associated with a show, because it’s very dramatic and shocking at times. So I thought this would be a good experience to show actors what can be done with the body as a character without having a voice.”