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WHS performs "The Miracle Worker

WORTHINGTON -- Memorizing her speaking part came quickly to Kim Hibma, who plays Helen Keller in the Worthington High School fall play, "The Miracle Worker," to be presented Friday and Saturday.

"I only have one line," she said with a laugh. "I've got that nailed down."

But the lack of lines didn't make the role an easy one. For Hibma, the challenge came in "involving myself into a completely different world, making myself feel what Helen would have felt, putting myself in a completely different place than where anyone else is," she explained. "I've just been trying to feel the anger and frustration and desire she must have had to know what was going on, putting myself in her shoes."

"The Miracle Worker," written by William Gibson, is the story of young Keller, who was blind, deaf and mute since infancy, and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Keller's disabilities have left her frustrated and violent until Sullivan is able to break through the walls of silence and darkness and teach her to communicate.

"Without that, she would have been confined to an asylum," explained director Linda Neugebauer. "Instead, she became a celebrity and a role model."

In choosing this year's play, Neugebauer, who is in her seventh year of overseeing the fall production, decided the students were ready to tackle an intense drama.

"It's been in my mind for the last four or five years," she said about Gibson's play. "You never know when one is going to seem right, and this year it just seemed right. It's different than anything else the kids have done. People will forgive things in a comedy that they won't in drama, and sustaining of emotional pitch is difficult. I work on teaching them consistency and hope they have the energy to see it through."

With Hibma portraying Keller, the other lead character -- Sullivan -- is played by Karri Wolf. Both students have found their roles to be exhilarating and exhausting.

"She was the kind of person that everything she said had a lot of meaning to it," explained Wolf about Sullivan. "So, the challenge has been not making a line the same as any of the others, and it's tough wrestling with Kim while speaking the lines, trying to communicate with someone who's deaf and blind. You use all your senses. I've never gone home from rehearsals so exhausted."

"One scene in particular, we're just sweating and exhausted," agreed Hibma, who is taking her first turn on the stage. "I just hope we're able to portray what an amazing and miraculous life Helen Keller lived and what a story she had to tell."

"I don't think I've had to work this hard at acting before, physical acting," added Wolf, who has appeared in other WHS productions. "I've never done anything so intense or asked so much of myself, but that's made it much more of an experience."

"The Miracle Worker" also has a large supporting cast -- 19 students in all -- as well as crew members, bringing the total number of students involved in the production to more than 40. Additionally, students in a WHS graphics class designed the program cover, poster and Daily Globe ads used to publicize the production.

Casting took place and rehearsals began just a couple of weeks into the school year.

"It's a great cast," praised Neugebauer. "They're giving it their all. It's one of the most supportive casts I've ever had. They really root for each other. There are a lot of first-timers out on stage, making their debut in Worthington, Minn. -- probably three-quarters of the cast."

The set for "The Miracle Worker," did pose an obstacle for the ensemble. The playwright designed the production to be played out on stage without specific boundaries, which initially baffled some of the actors.

"It's fragmented. It doesn't have walls," explained Neugebauer. "He didn't want there to be focus on the walls. He wanted it to transcend space and time, to have playing areas instead of practical props."

Memorial Auditorium's lighting technician, Ron Vogel, designed a scheme that defines where the action takes place.

"He's done just a beautiful job with the lighting," Neugebauer credited. "It's so defined and beautifully done. It makes the action happen so seamlessly."

Performances of "The Miracle Worker" will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. Tickets will be available at the door. A dress rehearsal at noon today is open to senior citizens for a free-will donation.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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