Tag: local actor

Miracle Worker

Kate Keller: A Mother’s Love

A mother’s love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible. –Marion C. Garretty
By Lizzie DeShaw

It is often said that motherhood is the hardest job in the world. A mother is an educator, a nurse, a chauffeur, a personal chef, a cheerleader, a maid, etcetera, etcetera.  Being the mother of a child with disabilities is a whole other game. I have thought often of what challenges Kate Keller must have faced raising Helen; a young girl who was both blind and deaf. My heart breaks for Kate Keller at the beginning of the play, The Miracle Worker, when Kate discovers that Helen cannot see or hear her.

One of my favorite character traits of Kate is that she fiercely advocates for Helen’s education. Kate knows her daughter’s mind is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. Throughout the play, we hear Kate’s dialogue insisting that Helen is capable of learning.

Kate is Annie Sullivan’s strongest ally within the Keller home. She promises to help Annie in her efforts to educate Helen and even takes the initiative to learn sign language to communicate with her daughter.

There is a line of dialogue in the play spoken by Captain Keller that goes, We don’t just keep our children safe. They keep us safe. Kate, as a mother, obviously wants what is best for Helen, but she feels inadequate at times. She goes through many challenges as a mother in the story. I admire her quiet strength.

An interesting fact about our specific production of The Miracle Worker is that our cast consists of four mothers who are acting alongside their children in the show.

Those cast members are:

  • Heidi Keith (Crone), mother of Abby Keith (Helen Keller)
  • Gretchen Copeland (Kate Keller), mother of Madeline Copeland (Martha)
  • Kelly Stoll (Crone), mother of Heidi Stoll (Blind Child)
  • Lizzie DeShaw (Viney/Crone), mother of Jacob DeShaw (Percy/ Boy’s Voice) and Mason Newberry (Blind Child)

I asked each of the mothers to tell me about what it has been like working with their child onstage:

Working on ‘The Miracle Worker with my daughter, Madeline, has been a dream come true! Theatre has been a lifelong passion of mine and having a child that shares that passion is amazing. She has been singing and dancing for years, but this was her first non-musical. Watching her blossom in this new way was so cool. She has learned so much from all the amazing people on this show that will continue to serve her in her theatre career for years to come.  We both feel so blessed to have had this amazing opportunity! – Gretchen Copeland

Doing the show together has been so much fun! I choke up every single night watching her. She is such a fierce, strong girl. We’ve had so much bonding time, and made non-stop, priceless memories. – Heidi Keith

I have two children who participate in theatre and every time I see them perform, I always need a tissue for my tears of pride and joy!  This is my first time performing with my daughter, Heidi, and I am so proud of her hard work and growth as an actress.  This experience makes me look forward to working with her again. – Kelly Stoll

Having been involved in theatre for most of my life, it has been a joy and privilege watching my boys discover their own love for the craft. – Lizzie DeShaw

The Miracle Worker runs for three more performances: April 8th and 9th at 7:30pm and April 10th at 2pm. The Sunday matinee on April 10th will be interpreted in American Sign Language (ASL).

Setting the Stage: A Glimpse Into the Set Design for The Miracle Worker

A stage setting is not a background; it’s an environment. __Robert Edmond Jones

For actors, a set is like a new world. A place to step into and truly exist as their character. For audiences, sets give them a peek into the universe in which the story takes place.

The Miracle Worker takes place in four different locations: The Keller home, the Perkins Institution for the Blind, a train station, and The Keller’s garden house. Creating a space for all these different settings can present a unique challenge for the director and set designers.

I sat down with the director of The Miracle Worker, Nancy Eppert, to discuss her inspiration and vision for the play’s set design.

LIZZIE: How would you describe the concept of this set design?

NANCY: I have witnessed several productions of The Miracle Worker by William Gibson and I wanted to hold true to the author’s intentions and give the story the best underpinning possible. Therefore, I have taken my cues from the description in the forward of the script,

The convention of the staging is one of cutting through time and place, and its essential qualities are fluidity and spatial counterpoint. To this end, the less set there is the better. The stage should therefore be free, airy, episodic, unencumbered by walls. Apart from certain practical items such as the pump, a window to climb out of, doors to be locked—locales should be only skeletal suggestions, and movement from one to another should be accomplishable by little more than the lights.

LIZZIE: Where did you draw your inspiration from?

NANCY: One of the productions mentioned above was presented during the AACT Worldfest in Venice Florida. several years ago. It was a production by a theatre company from Russia. The stunning simplicity, monochromatic costuming, and skeletal set helped to create a highly emotional interaction between actors and audience, the storytelling was superb. The emotion behind the words (in Russian) and interactions of the actors was at the forefront and impactful.

LIZZIE: What aspect of the set excites you the most?

NANCY: The actors literally must image their surroundings, creating each particle of the stage through their individual thoughts. The absence of walls is freeing and opens them to all sorts of decision-making for each scene. I love working with actors that take risks and move beyond the literal. As the audience witnesses the bare essence of the construction, they too become engaged in that experience. And quite frankly, having the pump actually pumping water on stage is very exciting to me!

LIZZIE: What challenges have you faced with the design and construction of this set?

NANCY: The Powerhouse Theatre does not have a fly house nor an open trussed substructure, therefore using those areas to support suspended items are nonexistent. The builders had to create support elements to accomplish this task and keep many construction and support aspects present before the audience. The theatre is not spacious; however, it is sufficient. The harmony of lumber, light and sound create the “miracle” of The Miracle Worker.

Set designs have the power to transport us to places we’ve never been, to take us back to the days of the past. Travel back with us to 1880’s Tuscumbia, Alabama, April 1-3 and April 8-10. Tickets for The Miracle Worker are available here.

A big thank you to Nancy Eppert and the technical crew of The Miracle Worker for all their hard work!

Local actor, Shane St. James, talks about his experience choreographing the fight scenes in The Miracle Worker

One of the things that makes The Miracle Worker so engaging to watch is the fight scene between Annie and Helen at the breakfast table. I have asked the production’s fight coordinator about his experience choreographing this scene.

Lizzie: First off, tell me a little about yourself.

Shane: Thanks for asking and speaking with me, Lizzie. I am a Leo so I LOVE talking about myself, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I am “from” Louisville, Kentucky, but spent the majority of my formative years in Manhattan, New York (Go Yankees), and my early years Houston, Texas. I spent some time in the Marines in California and Iraq, and I moved to Kansas City in spring of 2016. I joined CTI in June of 2021 as a member, as well as an At-Large Board member. 

Lizzie: What challenges have you faced while staging the breakfast fight scene between Annie and Helen?

Shane: I must admit, it hasn’t been as challenging as one might expect for a first time “Stage Combat Choreographer”. Of course, my main goal is to present the action on stage in the safest way possible, while also in the most believable way possible. The most amazing fact to me to reveal is that there actually is not a lot of “illusion” in this scene—the slaps you see are real, the grabs and tumbles are very real. These actors are giving their all each time we run through the 6 minute sequence, and you will be able to tell that by how hard they are breathing when the lights come up on the next scene.

Lizzie: What has been your favorite part about working with Lynnae (Annie Sullivan) and Abigail (Helen Keller)?

Shane: Both actors are an absolute delight to work with. I have always been a genuine fan of Lynnae’s remarkable talent and ability to encapsulate every character she takes on, and this show is no different; and Abby, oh my gosh, she absolutely blows my mind in the best way! She picks up direction so well and easily transitions it to the scene she’s working; absolutely phenomenal to be able to do that at such a young age. I could not have asked for a better team of “leads” to work with. Impeccable casting from our director, Nancy Eppert.

Lizzie: What are tips you have for actors’ safety during a stage combat scene?

Shane: The first, and most important tip, is to BE HONEST. It sounds weird, but I’ll quickly explain: Be honest with yourself, with your scene partner, and with your Combat Choreographer. If something you’re being asked to do makes you uncomfortable, speak out; if a direction you’re being given makes you nervous to perform it, say something; and if you’re being asked to do an action and it doesn’t feel 100% safe to you, don’t be afraid to tell your choreographer that you don’t want to do it. Our biggest desire for this skill is safety for all involved, and not just physical safety, but mental and emotional safety, as well. You should always feel that theatre is a safe space, and this is even more important when you’re asked to portray physical aggression to a castmate on stage. At the root of it all, never forget we are all on the same team, and we are all family with a goal of providing the best show possible, but not at the expense of our respective health and safety. So always be honest……and on the way, have a lot of fun too.

Fight scenes are always fun to watch, but so many safety precautions must be taken to keep the actors safe. Our actors rehearse their fight scenes several times a week and they always wear protective gear to prevent injury.

We cannot wait to present this story to you.

The Miracle Worker runs April 1st, 2nd, 3rd and April 8th, 9th 10th at the Roger T. Sermon Center Powerhouse Theatre.

Click here to purchase tickets at a drastically reduced price.

or call us at (816) 370-5664