Dramatic sights: Lake Forest High School Drama Club presents ‘The Miracle Worker’

FELTON – Sight and sound are integral parts of theater productions, but students in Lake Forest High School’s Drama Club are preparing a fall play with less of that in mind.

“We’re doing ‘The Miracle Worker’ which is a play about Helen Keller. It’s a dramatic story telling of the type of things her and her family were going through to get her to communicate essentially,” Drama Club Teacher Elise Matalavage said. “We’ve done a musical for the past three years I’ve been here. This will be our first fall play. On top of being a part of the play, many of these students have multiple commitments. So, just their commitment to this is just amazing. These students are highly dedicated. And I know that they’re extremely exhausted and I know they come in and do a good job.”

And the students are proving that they aren’t taking any chances with the play and have even learned a bit of sign language to better their roles, according to Emily Bishop who plays Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher.

The drama, based on Helen Keller’s life, focuses on her trials as a deaf and blind person at the turn of the 20th century. Unable to communicate effectively, her parents called a school for the deaf and blind, desperate for help. They sent Annie Sullivan, a teacher who was able to calm a sometimes-violent Helen Keller and teach her how to communicate using tactile signing.

 “We have two people playing Helen because it’s such a physically demanding role. We have one for each night of the show,” Ms. Matalavage said.

“I think it’s a very fun experience to be in this production and learn how her story is like as it’s being shared to the public,” said Sam Mejia, who will play Helen Keller for a night on stage.

She, like many of the students involved in this production, had not seen or read about Helen Keller’s plight before being cast in their roles. But they welcomed the challenge to bring her story to light.

“I decided on ‘The Miracle Worker’ because I think it’s a good learning opportunity for our students. They’re used to more comedic shows and this one they have to really portray the characters. And, in some cases like Helen, it’s all pantomiming and no words. They’re experiencing new things,” Ms. Matalavage explained. “I also discovered when I was doing some research for this play that there’s not a very big awareness for the deaf and blind community in Delaware.”

Ms. Matalavage also acts as the director for this production and is joined by two assistant directors new to the high school theater scene — English Teachers Allanah Filmore and Clara Greszczuk. The students also come from a wide variety of theater backgrounds.

“From my perspective, it seems like it’s been a struggle for them to fully understand, but once they understand the character, they’ve been able to demonstrate that emotion and understand that emotion and I think some of the things they go through in their lives, they can kind of connect with it. But overall, it’s definitely been something that they’ve really had to learn to grasp and watch and fully understand to get those emotions across,” she added.

Expressing emotions and learning to convey them in a different role is one of Samuel Cammisa’s favorite parts of acting. He plays Hellen Keller’s brother, James, and is the president of the Lake Forest High School’s Drama Club.

“I really enjoy theater, especially high school theater, because not only is it a way to express yourself other than through pen and paper and through the computer, but it’s a way to express yourself verbally. The high schoolers who don’t fit in, there’s a place for them in drama club,” he said.

Although the experience portraying a new character on stage is exciting, Emily Bishop, who plays Annie Sullivan, said the idea can be a bit daunting given the seriousness of their topic.

“I think it’s a little scary, just because we know it’s something that’s happened before and we can’t really get it wrong. If we get it wrong, we’re misrepresenting a struggle that was so real. The teacher and Helen went through so much together. It altered the deaf and blind community itself. I kind of feel like it’s an honor to share their story,” she said.

Lake Forest High School will also put on their annual spring musical in March; this school year, they have chosen to perform “Mama Mia.” “The Miracle Worker” will be performed Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. from the school auditorium. Tickets are $10 per adult and $5 per student or senior citizen with identification. More information can be found online at lfhsdrama.weebly.com.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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