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‘Miracle Worker,’ the story of Helen Keller, opens in Clarksville / March 12, 2014

Rehearsals are well underway for the Clarksville Community Players’ production of “The Miracle Worker,” based on the true-life story of Helen Keller, which comes to the local stage this weekend only (March 14-16) at the Fine Arts Center.

As an infant, illness rendered Helen Keller blind, deaf, and consequently mute. As a young child, Helen Keller was in danger of being sent to an institution because her inability to communicate left her frustrated and violent. In sheer desperation, Helen’s parents sought help from the Perkins Institute for the Blind, and a young schoolgirl named Annie Sullivan arrived to tutor their daughter. “The Miracle Worker,” a play by William Gibson, tells this dramatic and compelling story, and once again brings an array of talent to the Clarksville stage.

When director Diana Pate held open auditions for this particular show, she carefully considered the ages that both Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan would have been at the time. In the play, Helen is six years old. If possible, it was extremely important for Pate to cast a child who was also six years old. It is worth noting that Patty Duke, who initially made this role famous, was 12 years old when she first played Helen Keller in the 1959 Broadway play. Duke was 15 in the 1962 film version and almost didn’t get the part because she looked too old to play a six or seven year old child.

In CCP’s rendition, audiences are in for a special treat as Pate felt extremely confident in her selection for this important principal character. Helen Keller is being portrayed by six year old Hallie Caldwell of Buffalo Junction. Hallie is in the first grade, home-schooled, and is the youngest of four children. Besides acting on-stage, Hallie loves to read and she loves animals. While this is Hallie’s first major role with CCP, she did sneak in a small cameo appearance during CCP’s 2013 spring musical, “Meet Me in St. Louis” where Hallie’s mother Loria, played “Katie,” and big sister Evelyn, played “Tootie.” For one show, Hallie dressed up, twirled a parasol and got to sit on the trolley during the Trolley Song.

When asked how challenging the role of Helen has been for six-year-old Hallie and what preparation takes place at home for such a role, mother Loria explained Hallie’s usual temperament is a far cry from what would have been expected of real-life Helen Keller. Loria says she literally had to get in the floor and demonstrate how to pitch a temper tantrum. She added, “Hallie takes direction very well and now I think she loves to throw a fit!” At first, the director had Hallie practice with a blindfold so she could better understand what it felt like to be frustrated and not be able to see where she was going on-stage. After awhile, the blindfold was removed and now Hallie continues to practice on not being able to see and follow along with her eyes what’s really going on in the scene.

Carla Carden, a 23-year-old, plays Helen’s 22-year-old teacher, Annie Sullivan. Working with Hallie “is amazing,” says Carla. Carden lives in Chase City but is no stranger to the Clarksville stage. Carla has been seen in multiple past CCP productions including “Fiddler on the Roof,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” “Steel Magnolias” (2004), and her favorite role ever was Lucy in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” (2011). Carla is also no stranger to working with young children as she loves her job as a member of the “afternoon staff” at the Clarksville Baptist Preschool. Carla says she auditioned for Annie Sullivan “because I love the Helen Keller story,” and “when I was really little I learned the sign language alphabet.”

There are multiple heartfelt cast connections to the deaf and hearing impaired hard at work behind the scenes in this production as well.

A community event not to be missed, “The Miracle Worker” will run for one weekend only at the Clarksville Fine Arts Center. Show dates are Friday and Saturday, March 14-15 at 7:30 p.m. A Sunday matinee will be March 16 at 3 p.m. The box office opens on March 3 and box office hours are Monday-Friday, noon-6 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. For more information call (434) 374-0058.

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