In 1962, "The Miracle Worker" was released to critical acclaim in the film industry. The true story of young Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, the movie earned Academy Awards for Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke as well as several other nominations.
But for director Kathy Bleutge, that classic film was far from her mind as she staged The Sterling Playmakers' production of William Gibson’s original stage play this month.
"I try not to watch the movie close to when I’m doing the play, because they really are two different mediums," she said. "A lot of times directors have problems with that. You can’t dissolve a scene on stage — you have to find a different way to do that."
The play deals with Keller — a deaf and blind child — and her stormy relationship with Sullivan, her tutor. As the press materials for the Playmakers explain it: "[The play] focuses on the difficulties of a teacher to get an undisciplined child to understand that everything in life has a meaning while dealing with interruptions from overly concerned parents."
Bleutge said the Playmakers will offer a slightly different take on one aspect of the story: when Sullivan hears voices from the past. "In this particular production, there are off-stage voices that are called for. Usually you just hear them, but in this production we’re going to have them speak to [Annie directly]," she said. "The little boy who plays her brother makes everyone cry."
BLEUTGE SAID she’s working with a cast of about 30 actors for "The Miracle Worker," which will be performed at Sterling Middle School, 201 W. Holly Ave., April 20, 21, 27 and 28, at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinee performances, April 22 and 29, at 2 p.m. The April 22 performance is scheduled to be signed for the hearing impaired. Tickets are $10, and can be purchases through www.sterlingplaymakers.com.
Bleutge, a retired teacher who taught drama and English for 18 years at Park View High School, continues to work with former students with the Sterling Playmakers. Brian Garrison, an assistant director for "The Miracle Worker," is a former student and actor who studied under Bleutge at Park View. In fact, another former student encouraged her to help create the production company in 1996 after she retired. "Now here we are, 11 years down the road, and we’re still going," she said.
The company keeps expanding as well. The actors playing Helen’s mother (Maria Bissex) and Annie Sullivan (Rachel Gray) are new to the Playmakers. "I was blessed, you know?" said Bleutge. "I had three people who were new the Sterling Playmakers come out for this show. That’s really what we’re all about."
It’s all part of the Sterling Playmakers continuing to grow as artists. "We used to say this in the early days that we were the ‘no experience necessary’ group," she said. "There are so many good theater groups in the area. They’re growing by leaps and bounds."
The production is directed by Bleutge and produced by Emilie Pugh. Young Helen Keller is played by Emily Price and her teacher Annie Sullivan is played by Gray. Parents of Helen are Nate Granger and Bissex. Other adult actors include Anita Ault, Joni Carluzzo, Herbert DuVall, Jonathan Dyer, Herb Fuller, Eric J. Kingsepp, Sabine Morson, Brietta O’Neal and Beth Robertson. Actors playing younger roles include Kathryn Buckman, David Eddington, Courtney Garofolo, Becky Granger, Amanda Holsinger, Stephanie LeBolt, Heather MacNeil, Elizabeth Pittman, Heather Reed, Sarah Reed, Bianca Roberts, Cheryl Uttley, Joao Versos, Michelle Viljoen and Jackie Werner.