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‘The Miracle Worker’ looks at life of Helen Keller at Crane River Theater

‘The Miracle Worker’ looks at life of Helen Keller at Crane River Theater

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“The Miracle Worker”

“We so often underestimate people with disabilities,” said Steven Barth, director of “The Miracle Worker,” presented by Crane River Theater. “We often times feel that people with disabilities cannot live a full life in the same way that people without disabilities can. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.” The play opens Sept. 9 and continues through Sept. 12.

KEARNEY — For director Steven Barth, “The Miracle Worker” tells a powerful story of Helen Keller — but it also reminds him to look deeper into the lives of people with special needs.

“People often underestimate others with disabilities when, in fact, there is an incredible amount of potential with these individuals,” he said. “That’s the message from this show. ‘The Miracle Worker’ showcases that potential, and ability, in its greatest way.”

The classic three-act stage drama, written by William Gibson in 1957 as a teleplay, uses Keller’s autobiography as the basis for the story. Barth, who also serves as executive director of Crane River Theater, picked “The Miracle Worker” as the company’s destination show, a idea that uses different locations in Kearney as backdrops for its productions.

“Each fall we try to go to a nontraditional theatrical venue to produce a destination show,” Barth said. “In the past we’ve been to the Classic Car Museum to present ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ we’ve been to Mountain Rose Ranch to produce ‘Of Mice and Men’ and we’ve been to the Museum of Nebraska Art to produce ‘Art.’ We always like finding these unique venues that fits that space.”

Crane River Theater presents “The Miracle Worker,” 7 p.m. Sept. 9-11 and 2 p.m. Sept. 12 at Trails & Rails Museum. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $10 for students.

“We love our relationship with Trails & Rails Museum,” Barth said. “They have such a beautiful museum with a wonderful backdrop that complements this show.”

“The Miracle Worker” takes place in 1900, a time well represented by the buildings at Trails & Rails Museum. Keller lost her vision and hearing as an infant. Her family, unable to deal with the tantrums of a child who struggled to communicate with the outside world, hired Annie Sullivan to serve as a governess and teacher. The play details the breakthroughs that Keller and Sullivan reached during their relationship.

The show will take place outside, using the buildings of the museum as backdrops.

“But ‘The Miracle Worker’ takes place inside the Keller household with a bedroom, a dining room and a garden house,” Barth said. “All of those environments will be created with furniture and scenery and doors and platforms that Crane River Theater is bringing into the space to help create the rooms of the house.”

The director identifies two themes in the drama: communication and resilience.

Steven Barth

Director Steven Barth gives suggestions to cast members Casey Borghesi and Bryce Jensen during rehearsals. Playwright William Gibson based the script on the autobiography of Helen Keller.

“When Helen Keller was 19 months old, she contracted scarlet fever or meningitis — they’re not really certain,” Barth said. “As a result of that sickness, it caused her to be blind and deaf, which also prevented her from speaking. The Keller family, over the course of the next six years, were unable to find a way to communicate with her.”

The family essentially gave up hope.

“They finally reached out to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston and the school sent Annie Sullivan,” the director said. “She was a 20-year-old that was formerly blind herself. She came in and worked with Helen. It was a difficult journey for Helen because she had been allowed to do whatever she wanted for the previous five years because the Kellers had no idea of how to communicate with her. Annie’s goal was to give a voice to Helen.”

The teacher worked with her student, giving context to the elements of sign language.

“So when Annie signs ‘water,’ it’s difficult to understand it when someone is blind and deaf,” Barth said. “Therein lies the entire message of the show — communication, resilience, tenacity and hope.”

For Barth, the show explores society’s expectations of individuals with special needs.

“We so often underestimate people with disabilities,” he said. “We often times feel that people with disabilities cannot live a full life in the same way that people without disabilities can. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. People with disabilities are humans in the same way as others and have the same needs and desires and wishes. And they want to live a full, productive life.”

Miracle Worker

For Steven Barth, the show explores society’s expectations of individuals with special needs.

Keller continued her education and graduated from college. She wrote 14 books and gave lectures and talks on various subjects.

“She went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer,” Barth said. “Talk about potential.”

The story also highlights the importance of human proximity when it comes to communication.

“Communication has evolved so much over time,” Barth said. “Especially in the last 20 years, communication has changed from in-person contact to more of a digital format. Looking at this production shows the power of tangible, physical communication, in person. You see something that is so valuable and so important.”

rick@YardLightMedia.com

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