Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The deaf will hear and the blind will see

On saturday I went to a production of the play, The Miracle Worker, about Helen Keller. It centers on the period when Helen was 8 years old and first meets Annie Sullivan, who became her tutor and eventually lifelong companion. Helen was blind and deaf from 18 months old, and so when the play starts is unable to communicate with the outside world. Her parents pity for her and bewilderment at this incredibly difficult and painful situation has resulted in Helen becoming completely out of control. Annie introduces "tough love" to discipline Helen so she can start to learn to communicate. The big breakthrough occurs when Helen learns that for each object she encounters in the world there is a corresponding word for which Annie teaches her the corresponding hand sign.

It was a fantastic production from Crossbow Productions. I really enjoyed and was challenged by their previous productions: Anne of the Thousand Days and Mrs Klein.

It was a good reminder that there are many people in our world who struggle with basic things (e.g., hearing and seeing) that I take for granted. Most activity in the world excludes them.
Signing was incorporated beautifully in the performance so that the deaf in the audience could follow AND enhanced the actual experience for others.

After each performance Crossbow conduct a "symposium" where audience members can give feedback and ask questions of some of the actors. This time was particularly effective because the deaf (and one blind!) members of the audience gave feedback about how much they were moved. Caroline Beck, one of the actresses, recently completed a Ph.D at UQ on the role of these symposia in helping engage audiences in theatre.

There were various illusions to God and Annie demanding "a resurrection" of her dead brother? but I struggled to integrate this into my understanding.

The wikipedia entry on Helen Keller and the New York Times obituary that it references are worth reading.

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