Caesar Rodney High presents moving tale of ‘The Miracle Worker’

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Caesar Rodney High School senior Deja Emerik, left, plays Helen Keller and junior Rita Welch portrays her teacher Annie Sullivan in the school’s production of “The Miracle Worker.” Premiering Thursday night, the play continues tonight and Saturday at 7. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

CAMDEN –– For their fall play, Caesar Rodney High School students are taking on the tough task of bringing the true story of Helen Keller to the stage in William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker.”

The play, a challenging drama, focuses around the deaf and blind Ms. Keller, her relationships with her family and her tutor and companion Annie Sullivan.

Ms. Sullivan was called upon by the Kellers to teach Helen, who by an early age became impossible to control because her parents didn’t know how to manage her behavior due to her disabilities.

“Annie comes in to teach Helen the sign language alphabet by making the signs in her hand,” said Rita Welch, who portrays Annie.

“Helen ends up learning through some tough love from Annie.”

The play was chosen as the fall production by Caesar Rodney’s drama teacher John Muller. Mr. Muller teaches the play in his Theater II course and has been contemplating using it as the fall play for several years.

“It’s a challenging play and this year, we finally had the right group of kids for it,” he said.

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Trying to teach her how to communicate, Annie Sullivan, played by Caesar Rodney High junior Rita Welch, right, makes a breakthrough with the blind and deaf Helen Keller, played by senior Deja Emerick, as she speaks her first word.

“I try to pick the plays based on the talent the kids have and I always like it to be something they will enjoy.”

He said nothing is worse than actors performing a play that is either below or above their capabilities but “The Miracle Worker” was a perfect fit for this year’s students.

“It gives the kids the chance to do a drama,” Mr. Muller said.

“People think that teens can only do comedy because they’re young and don’t have enough emotional experience to pull off a drama. But with these actors, you’ll forget you’re watching kids perform the roles of adults.”

“Since it’s a drama, you can’t be yourself. You have to leave all of that at the door,” said Elizabeth Schofield, playing the role of Aunt Ev.

“And you don’t pick up who you really are until you walk out that same door after rehearsal or the show.”
Deja Emerick, portraying Helen Keller agreed with Elizabeth, especially since she’s playing a role that many people are already familiar with.

“It’s a play that tons of people have seen and hundreds of girls have played Helen Keller but I want to do it my own way,” Deja said.

“Even though she is deaf and blind, the role has been a little less challenging than I expected. You just have to shut off everything you know and have to accept a different reality when you get on stage.”

All of the actors have a different scene they like the most.

Akilah Hilton, who portrays Viney, the family’s servant, likes the beginning of the play when Annie and Helen meet for the first time while Elizabeth likes the very end.

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From left, Caesar Rodney senior Elizabeth Schofield as Aunt Ev, junior Rita Welch as Annie Sullivan, junior Sean Scanlon as Capt. Arthur Keller, junior Deja Emerik as Helen Keller, senior Caroline Phillips as her mother Kate Keller and senior Sam Szramka as her half-brother James.

“I know it’s cliché, but my favorite part is at the end when Helen is refilling a pitcher and has a huge realization and understanding about water,” she said. “It’s just really moving.”

The set was made entirely by CR students in Tech Theater class, a course most of the actors have taken.

Construction began the first week of school and was completed the first week of November.

“It’s one of the hardest classes there is because it involves so much physical labor and I don’t think the students are given enough credit,” Elizabeth said.

Nearly all the costumes were provided by the Kent County Theatre Guild, where Mr. Muller serves as chairman of the board of trustees.

“The Miracle Worker” premiered Thursday night and will be performed again tonight and Saturday at 7 at the Caesar Rodney High School auditorium, 239 Old North Road, Camden.

Tickets are $6 for the public and $4 for students and seniors.

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