School’s Fall Play, The Miracle Worker, Explores Helen Keller’s Educational Journey

They might not call it a miracle, but the cast and crew of Norfolk Academy’s fall play, The Miracle Worker, did accomplish a nearly miraculous amount of work to get the show ready: Months of preparation were crammed into a few short weeks, due to weather-related cancellations, unexpectedly complex props, and the challenge of learning sign language.
The performers and production team did not let these obstacles deter them, and are prepared to put on an amazing show.
“These kids have really stepped up,” said director and Middle School drama teacher, Caroline Bisi, referencing all the students involved in the production. “This is the first year we have lost a week of rehearsals. They are working extra hard with each other as a team. I have students running everything. They are learning how to sew, building pieces of the two-story set, teaching each other sign language, and running tech.”
This year’s fall play, The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, is set in the 1880s and depicts the story of Helen Keller and her relationship with her teacher and lifelong friend, Annie Sullivan. The themes of persistence and friendship resonate throughout the drama, fitting for the school’s Year of Friendship. It also happens that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Helen Keller's death. More than 50 students are involved in this year’s production, including 23 Upper School and 29 Middle School students. Together, the entire cast learned the ASL alphabet.

Virginia Ames Tillar stars as Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's determined teacher, and Reed Miller plays Helen Keller. Other significant roles include Ainsleigh Montgomery as Helen's mother; Paris Bredehoft as her father; and Sean Miller as her mischievous brother, James. 
As if that were not enough, Bisi incorporated another unique angle into the show. The Academy Players partnered with the EDI Fellows and faculty co-directors Dr. Tenaya Vallery, and Dr. Robert Call, to do a cross-curricular partnership, combining science and art. They conducted a “Hackathon” to discover the best way to build a functioning 19th century water pump to be used on stage. The winning team worked with Upper School German teacher and Chesapeake Bay Fellows director Chris Nelson to create a water pump, a central element of the play.
A few members of the cast and crew, interested in learning more about American Sign Language and gaining fluency in it, have formed an ASL Club. The club currently consists of founder Selden Fiveash ’22, co-presidents Sofia Tjia ’22 and Kristen Tan ’22, and seven other Middle School students. They hope to expand the club to include Upper School students next year.
Performances of The Miracle Worker are advertised on posters around campus, featuring artwork by Laura Read '20--a detailed portrait of the two actresses in the starring roles. The performances are free and open to the public:
  • Previews: Wednesday, October 17 and Thursday, October 18 at 4:00 p.m.
  • Performance (one night only): Friday, October 19 at 7 p.m.