A miracle on stage

Actors immerse themselves in challenging roles for upcoming play


Claire Lawrence

Actors Alex Fletcher and Lily Whitehurst rehearse an emotional scene

Claire Lawrence, Opinions Editor

The black and white words in a thick script ran wild throughout the actors’ minds as they line up one by one at the front of the stage. Lights beam down on their faces, showing their heartfelt emotions. They weren’t sure how to express it, but knew they would have to soon.

Theatre rehearsals started this week for the Vandegrift Theatre Company as they come together to put on the show, “Miracle Worker” for the winter play. The show is scheduled to open Jan 15.

“Based on some of the shows I’ve seen in the past here at Vandegrift, I feel like a lot of them have gotten really contemporary and more modern, which is fine but I kind of wanted to do a historical piece,” 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 Helen lived growing up is portrayed. With the help of her family and teacher, Annie Sullivan, Helen learned ways of reaching others. The role of Helen 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 Nov. 6 and the cast list was posted Nov. 10. The first read through took place shortly after. Alonso said casting this show was terrible for him because they were some of the best auditions he’d ever seen, and he had to break it down to the smallest of things in order to judge the actors fairly.

“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.”

During auditions, the actors who wanted to play Helen had to go through many different exercises. One of the ways Alonso auditioned people 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. Alonso described the exercise as a puzzle.

“There were several obstacles they had to go through,” he said. “They had to rely on other senses like hearing the suitcase, feeling the suitcase, and figuring out how to open it without looking. 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 Helen, 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 women 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 this method, most of the signing only consists 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.”