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‘Miracle Worker’ cast finds real-world connections

‘Miracle Worker’ cast finds real-world connections

CC resident shares personal story with high school students Special to the Press

The CCHS drama students are rehearsing a production of The Miracle Worker, a play based on the real story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. The students have had an opportunity to learn more than their lines. Directors Linda Brant and Mike Lembke wanted the students to consider the reality of Keller, who became blind and deaf as a toddler, yet went on to earn a college degree and become known worldwide. The cast has had several important interactions with people who have lived their lives being deaf or blind.

Dale Bond and his wife Helen from Charles City met with the cast to give them one version of deafness. Dale was born deaf but went to a school in Faribault, Minnesota that taught him to lip read and speak, not to use sign language. He attended college, majored in microbiology, and moved to Charles City where he worked at Salsbury Laboratories for 35 years. He and Helen met at a dance, married, and brought up their two children here in Charles City. An important thing the cast realized from speaking with Dale was how language sounds when a person has never heard the inflections that a hearing speaker learns by listening. Because he learned to lip read, he has lived and worked in the world of the hearing.

Students also met a deaf childhood friend of Brant, Ruth Hayworth, who attended the Iowa School for the Deaf where she learned sign language. She answered student questions through Facebook. She was at first reluctant to communicate with the students because writing in English is her second language, American Sign Language being her first. Most of the cast had never considered the difference between communicating basic ideas with signing as being different than English, which has a definite word order and uses a lot of connecting words, like “of” and “the.”

The cast had an active session with Emily Kemp Meyer and her husband Jeff of Charles City. Emily was born with a congenital condition that has required surgery on her eyes since infancy. Her experience has ranged from having good enough sight to have a drivers license to other times being totally blind. She shared many anecdotes of keeping house, being a mom, and working at the family business, the Vac Shack. She was easy to laugh with, and the cast respected how much she has done in spite of her sight problems. Emma Sheckler, who is portraying the blind Helen Keller, got many tips from her on moving and measuring distances as if she were blind. Sheckler has also rehearsed many times with a blindfold to identify as a blind person.

The three mentors shared how modern technology has changed their lives and abilities to interact. Bond does a lot of texting, and Hayworth and Meyers both use the internet and Facebook to communicate. Brant and Hayworth even made a telephone connection, with a translator having a visual phone connection to sign with Hayworth, and a phone connection to talk with Brant. The visual phone opportunity is made possible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Miracle Worker will be performed for the public on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Charles City Middle School Auditorium. General admission tickets, $5 for adults and $3 for students, are being sold by the cast and crew, and will be available in the lobby before each performance. Middle School and Lincoln students will see a matinee performance during the school day on Thursday, Nov. 5.

The community is encouraged to donate used eye glasses at the performances or through Lincoln or Middle School students. In 1925, Helen Keller spoke to the International Lions Clubs, asking them to take on the challenge of stopping preventable blindness. The Lions today provide eye and ear screening and medicine worldwide to continue working toward that goal, and gather used eyeglasses to send where they are needed in the world. The local Lions Club will have a display in the Middle School lobby the nights of the play and hope to get many eyeglass donations.

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