By Mary Boyle
Helen Keller was born almost 140 years ago in Alabama. At the age of 18 months, she was stricken with an illness that took away both her sight and her hearing, thrusting her into a world of complete darkness. While there were schools for the blind, and braille had been invented 56 years before Helen was born, there was little known about how to help a person who was both deaf and blind. Luckily, Helen's parents were people of means, and they were able to find for a teacher for Helen when she was just 6 years old. Annie Sullivan, who was just 20 years old, herself, was able to finally give Helen the gift of communication. Helen wrote of this transformation at length in her autobiography, The Story of My Life, published in 1903, which the playwright William Gibson used as a basis for his Broadway production in 1959. Fifty years later, Helen's story is still touching audiences, still incredibly relevant, and the perfect production to end the First Stage Young Company season with. Don't miss your opportunity to see The Miracle Worker.
Directed by the amazing Matt Daniels, who is also the Director of Young Company, the award-winning training program for advanced high school actors at First Stage, The Miracle Worker is not only a testament to the human spirit, but a reminder that all people, regardless of their abilities, have value and deserve a chance to reach their potential; that our greatest teachers can be found in those we least expect; and, that good communication can overcome almost any obstacle.
The Young Company cast for The Miracle Worker includes: Jennie Babisch as Annie Sullivan; Meghan DeRoche as Kate Keller; Eloise Field as Anagnos/Belle; Addy Grace as Percey/Doctor/; Kyra Mathias as Viney/Martha/; Ashley Nord as Helen Keller; Mathilde Prosen-Oldani as James Keller; Gabe Smith as Captain Keller; and, Chloe Winney as Aunt Ev.
While most people know the story of a deaf and blind girl who learned to communicate, Daniels insists that one of the best parts of the story is what most people don't know. "Helen Keller went on to be the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college. She went on to a life of social activism, including co-founding the American Civil Liberties Union, fighting for worker's rights, working tirelessly for the American Federation of the Blind, and acting as America's first Goodwill Ambassador during WWII. She was friends with mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt. She learned several languages, including their braille counterparts, received six honorary doctorates, and fought for humanitarian causes until she dies in 1968."
Imagine what may have happened if Helen's parents hadn't believed in her ability to learn? If they hadn't fought for her and given her every opportunity? If they had let their prejudices against Annie Sullivan's age or the fact that she was Irish and from the North stop them from hiring her? What if all of the people in Helen's life underestimated and undervalued her because of her deafness and blindness? The world would be a very different, and much darker, place.
Not only is this a classic production that everyone should see, the Young Company does a phenomenal job with it; they have never failed to impress me, and I will continue to insist that their productions are some of the best theatre in Milwaukee at an incredible value. Don't miss your chance to see this.
THE MIRACLE WORKER runs May 10 – 19, 2019 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are $14 and may be purchased online at www.firststage.org or through the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961. Performance runtime is approximately two hours and twenty minutes, which includes two intermissions. Suggested for families and young people ages 12+.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’sEureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).