This February, West Ottawa Theatre will be returning to the stage with a new production,The Miracle Worker, which tells the story of young Helen Keller and the start of her relationship with her aid, Annie Sullivan. Sr. Jayla VanMaurick plays Helen Keller, which is easily the most difficult role. VanMaurick is learning how to act deaf and blind, and it is proving to be a taxing endeavour.
Acting blind on stage presents a certain challenge. “You have to kind of relax your eyes and it kinds makes your vision blurry,” VanMaurick said. “I also observed other blind people.” In her observations, VanMaurick noted that not all blind people move the same. For example, some have their eyes open, while others have theirs closed. A lot of that relates to how someone becomes blind. Acting as though one is blind is difficult at first, but VanMaurick is performing her part well.
“Acting deaf is way easier because it’s just like ignoring people. It’s like tuning people out and it’s kind of a natural habit that lots of people have,” VanMaurick said. She describes deafness as something that is easy to learn, but hard to master. VanMaurick discovered that one thing that had to be convincing when learning to be deaf was her sound. VanMaurick describes the way that deaf people make sound and the sound itself as “very strange, almost primal compared to other people.”
Both with blindness and deafness, the physicality of each ailment is very dissimilar to that of others. “Deaf people have a form of tunnel vision when moving, They don’t know what is going on around them audibly, so they focus on one thing at a time,” VanMaurick said.
Movement for deaf people is almost solely vision based. They aren’t able to react to sounds around them and react correctly to said sounds. “Blind people don’t necessarily know where they are headed, so their movement is very feeling based. When [blind people] move, their upper body doesn’t move the same way that our upper bodies move. It’s all feeling and counting, rather than normal walking,” VanMaurick said.
Her efforts to become Helen Keller have also been noticed by her family. “Jayla has been very determined to ensure that she does an excellent job portraying Helen Keller. Jayla practices a lot at home to help her with this endeavor and she’s really immersing herself in this role,” her brother, Sr. Jayden VanMaurick said.
VanMaurick is utilizing lots of methods and going through atypical learning experiences in order to embody Keller. Her peers are stunned by the realism of her performance, even this early into production.
To get the full immersion of VanMaurick and the rest of the cast, come see WOHS’ production of The Miracle Worker on February 9, 10, and 11.