Try as she might, 11 year-old Megan Huizinga can’t begin to understand what Helen Keller’s life was like.
The young girl has been researching the life of the blind/deaf/mute as she prepares to play the young woman in the Petrolia Community Theatre’s production of The Miracle Worker. She just can’t wrap her mind around what it might have been like for Helen.
“I don’t know what it would be like,” she says during a break in rehearsing along side Carol Graham who plays her teacher, Anne Sullivan. “I feel sorry for her having to live like that all her life. But at least she had Anne.”
Researching what Helen Keller’s life in the 1880s was like does help Huizinga prepare for the role, but it only goes so far. The part, which has no lines other than grunting, requires the 11 year-old to convincingly portray a person trapped in her own body.
Huzinga can’t turn her head to look at something as she walks or even avoid it. And she can’t react to things she hears or sees around her on the stage.
Graham says that may be the most difficult part. “Your instinct, if something falls near you, is you want to look at it. Helen can’t do that.”
That makes Graham’s job more difficult too. “A lot of the time it is just the two of us together and I have all the lines,” she says. “Usually when you’re on stage with another actor…and you say a wrong line…the other actor can get you back into the line, not with this.”
Trying to capture what it might have been like for Helen is “tiring mentally” says Huizinga. And it’s also a great deal physical work.
Sullivan struggled with Helen as she tried to teach her sign language. During rehearsal, Huizinga got hit with an elbow and split her lip. PCT brought in a stage combat instructor to try to make the scenes as realistic as possible.
The cast has also had to learn sign language – something Graham says she practices now even when she’s driving.
Despite all the work, both Huizinga and Graham say they’ve learned a great deal about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan while preparing for the show, and about themselves.
“This forces you to learn to believe in yourself,” says Graham.
“You have to have a lot of confidence,” agrees Huizinga “because a lot of this is out of my comfort zone.
Tickets for the performance which start April 24 are on sale at the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia Box office now.