Students and staff at Wilmington Christian School are bringing a staple of Alabama history, "The Miracle Worker" to the stage this weekend.
The story follows Helen Keller, a girl rendered blind and deaf following an illness as an infant. Growing up temperamental, the Kellers became increasingly frustrated with how to best care for their daughter. When Helen was seven years old, her parents hired Annie Sullivan, who was also visually impaired, to go to Alabama to live with the Kellers and teach Helen an effective means of communication.
The production features an ensemble cast of elementary, middle and high school students including third grader Kristen McGrail as Helen Keller. The role requires a lot of action and constant diligence to forget "how to see" while on stage.
"At first, she's wild and she kicks and screams," said McGrail of her character. "But, it's because she's frustrated that no one understands her."
That all changes for Keller, though, when Sullivan arrives and realizes that there's a sharp mind being stifled underneath the weight of Keller's silence. Sullivan, an Irish spitfire who's overcome her own challenges with sight and loss is the perfect wall for Keller to rail against and, later, lean on. The role was a challenge for Kaylene Mummert, who describes herself as much more compliant that Sullivan.
"She has no problem telling the world what it needs to do," Mummert said. "I'm not like that but I've worked hard to get into the character. Everyone has."
Director Allyson Goode agreed, adding that much attention has been paid to getting the costuming just right and making sure that the kids understand the cultural differences and historical significance of the story they are trying to tell.
"I always try to pick something that incorporates a lot history and culture so the kids get even more out of it," Goode said.
Another feature that Goode took care to incorporate is the inclusion of an American Sign Language interpreter. Andrea Valentine, a former teacher at the Delaware School for the Death and a current administrator and substitute teacher at WCS, quietly sits on the edge of the stage signing the dialogue as it occurs.
"I think audiences will really enjoy the story," Mummert said before rehearsal this week. "The set and the costumes look so good. I mean, there's a lot going on and you really have to pay attention but if you do, you'll really enjoy it."