As the cast and crew of Long Reach High School’s production of “The Miracle Worker” gathered before a dress rehearsal on Nov. 2, director Marla Blasko, theater teacher at Long Reach, asked them to close their eyes, but not to relax. Rather, she asked the to tighten their muscles, from their jaws to their toes, before asking them to let the”tension feelings go.”
“Breathe in. Breath out your day,” Blasko said. “Breathe in 1800s Alabama.”
The story of Helen Kelller, who became deaf and blind as a baby after an illness, “The Miracle Worker” reveals how Annie Sullivan arrived at the Keller’s house to become Helen’s teacher and to help her find her voice.
“Everyone know the general gist of who Helen Keller is,” said Berri Wilmore, 17, who portrays Annie Sullivan in the play. “No one really knows much about her teacher. The play is really about the struggles Sullivan had to overcome to teach Helen Keller.”
As Keller, Emily Groves, 17, does not have one line in the play. Her character communicates by hitting the floor and throwing things, which Groves has worked hard on to make it appear realistic.
“I watched a lot of stage productions … and footage of the real Helen Keller,” Groves said.“I watched how the eyes moved. I practiced a lot.”
A senior, Groves has been in many of Long Reach’s past productions. “The Miracle Worker,” she said, has been one of the most physically challenging.
“All of the physicality of the show,” was surprising, she said. “We had a fight coordinator come in to help.”
“It is really difficult making it believable. It is just such a violent show,” Blasko said. Watching a scene, she expressed concern about the need for plastic glasses. “There are people running around in bare feet. It gets me nervous.”
A pivital moment in the story comes early in Act 2 during a breakfast scene, when a food fight occurs between Sullivan and Keller. The cast calls it the egg scene, but oN Nov. 2, Blasko decided to rename it “the grit scene.” Really mashed potatoes, both Wilmore and Groves get potatoes in their hair and on their faces during the scene
Many of the scenes in “The Miracle Worker” involve food. Besides real mashed potatoes, there are real jelly sandwiches for a picnic scene and stick candy. Blasko went over a list of food items, from a roast to a ham before the show started.
“There are so many props in this show,” said Augustine Petzold, student stage director and manager. “It is definitely one of the more difficult shows I’ve done.”
Blasko chose the play, she said, because the story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, spoke to her as a teacher. It is also provides inspiration, she said.
“There are so many students in Howard County that face struggles and this story provides the inspiration to never give up,” Blasko said.
As Helen Keller’s half brother, James, Justin Diaz, 15, has one of the few male roles in the play.
”He as one of the biggest arcs,” Diaz said, of his character. “He starts negative and ends in such a way he finds himself making a name for himself.”
After a full run of the show, Blasko gathered the cast of 19 students and seven crew members together over notes.
“We do really have a great show,” Blasko told the students. “ Let people know it is going to be a fabulous show.”
“The Miracle Worker” will be performed at 7 p.m., Nov. 10 and 11, at Long Reach High School, 6101 Old Dobbin Lane, Columbia. 410-313-7117.
It is fall play scene in Howard County. Other productions are:
“The Tempest,” at 7 p.m., Nov. 10 and 11, at Atholton High School, 6520 Freetown Road, Columbia. 410-313-7065
“Noises Off,” at 7 p.m., on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2; 2 p.m., on Dec. 2 at Glenelg High School, 14025 Burntwoods Road, Glenelg. 410-313-5528.
“12 Angry Jurors,” at 7 p.m., on Nov. 9, 100 and 11; 2 p.m., Nov. 11. at Hammond High School, 8800 Guilford Road, Columbia. 410-313-7615
“The Odd Couple (Female Version), 7 p.m., Nov. 16, 17 and 18; 3 p.m., Nov. 19, at Marriotts Ridge High School, 12100 Woodford Drive, Marriottsville. 410-313-5568
“It’s A Wonderful Life,” 7 p.m.,Nov. 9, 10 and 11, at Mt. Hebron, 9440 Old Frederick Road, Ellicott City. 410-313-2880
“Anne of Green Gables,” 7 p.m., Nov. 16, 17 and 10; 2 p.m., Nov. 18, at Reservoir High School, 115500 Scaggsville ROad, Fulton. 410-888-8850
“Blithe Spirit,” 7 p.m., Nov. 16,17 and 18 at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. 410-313-6965.