Kilgore College students will bring to life the world of Helen Keller on the Van Cliburn Auditorium stage this week.
The production marks the return of William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” to Kilgore College after about a decade, and the first time the actors will perform special daytime productions especially for student groups from East Texas schools, who have been studying Helen Keller, KC theater instructor Micah Goodding said.
Through the show the younger students will be able to see the story unfold on stage and see the character and person they have been learning about brought to life before them.
“I’m honestly most looking forward to how students who have read the story of Helen Keller react to seeing a real life Helen in front of them,” Goodding said about the student performances.
The student shows are an aspect of KC theater productions Goodding has wanted to bring to the department, and both morning performances are poised to be capacity crowds full of school-age students and their teachers.
The story brings different challenges for each actor, whether playing the blind and deaf Keller, her teacher Annie Sullivan or her parents.
“Everyone has a unique set of problems in the way they face Helen’s disability,” said Goodding, who also serves as director. “The plot is about everyone resolving those things.”
As an example, he said, Keller’s parents pity their daughter and therefore allow her to get away with everything because of their pity mixed with their love. Sullivan, on the other hand, uses discipline in her relationship with Keller.
“She has a personal history with disability,” Goodding said about Sullivan’s role in Keller’s life. “She herself is partially blind and lived the first half of her life in barbaric conditions inside of poorhouses… For her, Helen represents a second chance. What she’s doing is almost an effort at personal redemption.”
Regardless of the character or what challenges the role brings, all of the actors have to grapple with how to connect with the story and to the real people they are portraying set during the post-Civil War South.
“A lot of time it’s about finding the things you find in common with the character rather than affect some characterization,” he said. “Finding the things that make them human and you also share with them.”
The journey for most of the characters in the play, he said, revolve around what it is like to love somebody and to be loved by someone. Then, the central theme of the story is the feeling of finding the right words for a situation.
“Feeling that sense of joy in expressing yourself,” he said. “That’s at the heart of this play.”
Although there are no sword fights or combative action, Goodding said, he hopes the audience will connect to the story because of its timeless quality and the importance of the play, which is based on Keller’s autobiography “The Story of My Life.”
“What we’ve tried to do is find moments in the story that we think are the most relatable and play those up for the audience,” he said.
The production will also bring in a new element with projections, which will be integrated into the show using projectors grant money allowed the college to install in the theater.
“We’re using projections in order to illustrate and depict the moods of the scenes,” he continued. “I hope the audience will connect there.”
The production also will feature original music composed specifically for Kilgore College’s production by professional theater designer and musician Ryan Gillem.
“His sound design is so relatable and so simple that we think audiences will connect with it no matter what age they come into the theater or their experience with the play,” Goodding said. “We think that connects them with the journeys of the characters.”
The part, Goodding said, he is most looking forward to in the show, though, is not a particular scene that happens on stage. Rather, he is curious to see how the audiences react to Keller and the other characters’ relationships with her.
“When we talk about persons with disabilities, I think there’s a tendency for people to not really know how to begin that conversation and discuss those things in a way that’s human and meaningful,” he said. “I think it’ll give people a unique opportunity to respond, and I’m looking forward to seeing how people respond.”
When selecting the show, Goodding said, he wanted to make a familiar story unfamiliar and present Keller’s life in a “very real” way instead of through a romanticized lens.
“That’s what we’re hoping for anyway,” he said.
Kilgore College’s production of “The Miracle Worker” will play Oct. 6-9 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students and $5 for KC students with their student ID.
The play is appropriate for all ages, but children younger than 7 years old will not be admitted. Late arrivals will not be admitted either.
For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.kilgore.edu/drama or contact the box office at 903-983-8126 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The box office will be open one hour prior to each performance.