Corinne Callahan has been acting since she was 7. But her latest role is unlike anything she’s ever done before.
Corinne, 15, will play Helen Keller in ’s fall production of The Miracle Worker. The play tells the true story of the deaf and blind Keller and the tutor, Annie Sullivan, brought in to help her communicate with the world.
“It’s always been a story that’s sort of interested me,” said Corinne, a sophomore. “I remember watching the movie and being enthralled.”
But inhabiting the mind, and body, of Keller has proven to be a unique challenge for Corinne, who doesn’t have a line in the entire play, apart from a single utterance toward the very end.
On Friday, theater director Greg Harr brought in representatives from the New Jersey Association of the Deaf-Blind (NJADB) to demonstrate for the students in the play what it’s like to live deaf and blind.
Harr said it’s important for all the students—from those playing bit parts in the show on up to the leads—to have that experience. He views his job as twofold: “For a high school theater program, the audience is half of that. I have an obligation to service the audience, but I also have an obligation to service (the students) … It’s a school show. So it’s also educational.”
The instructors from the NJADB had the students wear blindfolds and put in earplugs and—after a demonstration of the proper technique for doing so—had them lead each other around the theater and the hallways.
It was a revelatory experience for the students. One said, “It was really scary to be left alone.” Another said she “started to feel off balance.”
“It’s definitely a completely new experience,” said Corinne. “It’ll be easier to act as if I can’t see now that I kind of a little bit know what it’s like.”
Senior Jane Schumacher, who plays Sullivan, said she typically researches her roles and this was no exception. But the exercise organized by Harr went above and beyond anything she could have done on her own and was very helpful in giving her insight into both her role and the story itself.
“Because I have an experience to base it off of,” Schumacher said. “It’s fascinating.”
The NJADB instructors ended the exercise by leading the blindfolded, ear-plugged students into the cafeteria across the hall from the theater where a buffet of food—chips, bread, lunch meat, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.—had been laid out on two tables.
Once they were seated at the tables, the students did their best to prepare themselves a meal minus two of their most important senses, with varying degrees of success. The students primarily relied on each other, carefully passing and accepting plates to and from those seated next to them, using touch to determine what they were being given.
Some of the sandwiches the students put together for themselves may have looked a little … odd, but NJADB training coordinator Les Polk said they were doing great.
“They’re doing excellent. They’re communicating with each other, working as a team,” he said. “They’re doing really well for their first time.”
Harr said it’s not uncommon for the theater program to have these kinds of instructional tie-ins to its plays. Two years ago, when they were putting on The Diary of Anne Frank, he brought in a Holocaust survivor to speak to the students.
“There’s always a thing we’ll do to make it a little more real, to put it in some context,” he said. “That’s important for the students, to ultimately understand the point of why we’re telling the story.”
The Miracle Worker will run from Nov. 3-5 at . Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors.
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