Steve Bergen, Mayfield Senior School, Pasadena, CaOak Knoll School
of the Holy Child
Summit, NJ


The Miracle Workerchallenges actors and teaches compassion

These were the most challenging roles Theatre Conservatory students said they have ever played.

Helen Keller, blind and mute. No lines. All expression.

Annie, Helen’s passionate and determined teacher. Energized spirit. Heart and mind on fire.

Mayfield Senior School’s recent revival of the Tony-award winning play The Miracle Worker not only put a spotlight on the dramatic and technical theatre skills of students, but also capped months of student learning not only about their craft, but about life.

The depth of the production honors the special place that arts education holds in Holy Child schools as SHCJ founder Cornelia Connelly was an artist herself.

Theatre Conservatory Director Andrea Sweeny said the theme of wonderment in the show also reflected the philosophy of a Holy Child education.

“Mayfield is a place that fosters an education of the whole person, in mind and spirit,” she wrote. “Like Helen, the young women in this show have a deep curiosity, a passion for learning and a profound ability of self-expression.”

The Miracle Worker is the iconic story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, her extraordinary teacher for whom the play is named. It’s a story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The late-1800s setting reveals the discriminatory, often cruel, treatment of those with disabilities. Yet ultimately this is an inspirational story about perseverance, light and the human longing for connections that and has inspired generations.

For Rory Burke ’19 and Anika Ash ’19, who played Helen, their training began with at-home practice for the demands of the role. They would blindfold themselves and wear noise-canceling headphone to help them understand Helen’s dark and silent world.

As Helen, “you can’t look as someone when they talk to you. You have to have stone eyes,” said Anika. “Helen is not a happy person and you have to portray her feelings only through action.”

Emma Gilliland ‘19, who played Annie, said the intense physicality of her role was a challenge and called on her to develop new stage skills, like conveying frustration and power.

“There was something incredibly appealing to me about Annie’s spirit and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” she said. “Annie is powerful character.”

Theatre Conservatory teacher and Mayfield alumna Andrea Sweeney ‘12 prepared her students for the role first through studies and research, requiring each cast member to present a character analysis and historical review of the play.

“It really helped me understand Annie and her motivations when I studied and had to present on her real-life hardships,” Emma said. “It’s been an awesome experience. Ms. Sweeney treats us like professionals.”

The actors said studying and performing in this show has given them deep empathy for the obstacles that confront those with disabilities.

“This show has brought us all so much more awareness of the subject and how treatment has improved over the years,” Anika said.