Sopris Theatre Company opens season with ‘The Miracle Worker’
IF YOU GO...
Who: Sopris Theatre Company
What: ‘The Miracle Worker’
When: 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and Oct. 29-31, 2 p.m. on Sunday and Nov. 1
Where: The New Space Theatre at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs-Spring Valley
How much: $18 for adults, $13 for seniors and students and $10 for CMC faculty and staff
Sometimes telling a well-known story makes a theater company’s job easier. Sometimes, it puts the pressure on.
But Brad Moore, director of Sopris Theatre Company’s “The Miracle Worker,” said he made the decision early on not to get stuck in the shadow of other productions.
“This is our production and our opportunity to tell the story,” Moore said. “And while we want to do it accurately and with integrity, it is theatrically us telling the story. So I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at other shows.”
“The Miracle Worker” tells the story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. Keller, a deaf, blind and mute young girl, has grown up without language and therefore without knowledge of how to function in society. Sullivan is the girl’s last hope for a life rooted in any kind of structure or normalcy.
The play premiered on Broadway in 1959 with Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. Bancroft and Duke reunited in 1962 for a film version, which won three Academy Awards and was nominated for one more.
To this day, multiple theater companies across the world are producing “The Miracle Worker,” and the play opens Sopris Theatre Company’s 2015-16 season on Friday.
“It’s an American classic in many ways,” Moore said. “It deals with some really interesting subject matter, and it’s historical. It’s been such a major part of the American theater. Plus, I think it’s a wonderful vehicle for training actors and actresses.”
Perhaps the most extreme training went to Emily Henley, who plays Helen Keller. Henley is a junior at Roaring Fork High School. Though she’s acted in a handful of plays in the past, this is her first production with Sopris Theatre Company, and it’s certainly one of her most challenging roles.
“I’ve got a little pressure,” she said with a laugh. “It’s definitely hard. Not having the foundation of lines to build the show on top of has been a real challenge. In past shows I would always learn lines — that would be the first step — and base all the acting off of lines.”
Instead, Henley was tasked with building her character with actions and facial expressions alone. She said she worked extensively with Moore to make sure she wasn’t just acting blind and deaf, but she was putting herself in Keller’s world.
“I’ve practiced with blindfolds and earplugs; I’ve tried certain bits with my eyes closed,” Henley said. “It’s just been a lot of repetition and trying to get in the mindset. ‘What would it be like without hearing and sight?’”
There’s a reason “The Miracle Worker” is still being produced worldwide almost 60 years after its premiere, and it’s not just that Helen Keller’s story is widely known. It’s that the perseverance exhibited by the characters is something audiences can and always will relate to.
“Almost everyone in the family has given up completely — myself, both my parents,” said Scott Elmore, who plays Helen’s half brother James. “But then Annie comes in, and she persists to the point of exhaustion. She tries to find a way around everything. And in the end, that’s what gets through to Helen is persistence.”
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