"The Miracle Worker" Is A Timeless Classic Of Teaching Others And Overcoming Obstacles

Feb 14, 2014

Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Sullivan moved in with the Kellers in 1887, and began a teacher-pupil relationship that would last five decades.
Credit New England Historical Society

Before she was known as an author, a humanitarian, a champion for women's rights, and advocate for the deaf and blind, Helen Keller was a bit of a tyrant.

She lost her vision and hearing she was two. This left her parents unable to effectively communicate with her and handle her constant outbursts. Following tip of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the Kellers visited the Perkins Institute of the Blind, where they found Anne Sullivan.  

The start of what would be a five-decade teacher-pupil relationship was made into the play "The Miracle Worker," the latest production to be performed at Kalamazoo Civic Theatre.

"She had done all the readings, she had been through all the teachings, and she was going to teach this child language, and I think when she got thrown into it - her whole world turned apart and she says many times in this show [that] she doesn't know what to do," says Sara Raddis, who stars as Anne Sullivan.  Sullivan was only twenty years old when she moved in with the family in 1887. "Her one focus and belief is that no person should be kept in this darkness and not be able to communicate with the outside world."

By signing words into her hand, Keller was able to figure out that each object had a name connected to it. The lightbulb moment sent Keller on a lifelong affair with learning as much as she could.

"I think this play reminds us that there's something more than just seeing and hearing and speaking - that there are other ways that we can experience the world, other ways that we communicate with each other - through smell, through touch - and that maybe we shouldn't be so shortsighted to think that seeing puts you in one category or another in the way in which you view the world," says managing director Kristen

In the six decades that have followed since the original script was written, deaf and blind people have made strides that were unfathomable in Helen Keller's time. But Chesak feels the play's overarching message of overcoming limitations is one that still resonates today.

"These two people - if they had just given up and decided 'I can't communicate like everyone else' - then what would have happened? And that really is how I have approached this play."

"The Miracle Worker' will be performed at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre until March 1.