Cleburne High School will be presenting “The Miracle Worker” Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in UIL One Act Play competition at Granbury High School.
The play is based on the autobiography of Helen Keller and her relationship with her teacher, Anne Sullivan. It is a production CHS junior Alaina English knows well, as she first portrayed Sullivan as a Wheat Middle School thespian.
English was in the eighth grade when she received UIL All-Star Cast honors for her performance in Wheat’s 2014 One Act Play presentation of “The Miracle Worker.” She says it’s an older, and wiser, actor who will be performing the role of Sullivan before judges Wednesday, compared to four years previous.
“I feel so much wiser,” English said. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I am. In eighth grade I was acting for fun. I only spent a little time on my lines. Now that I’m in high school theater, I work hard to become my character, to really get into the play. I feel I’ve matured in my acting.”
English said when she learned “The Miracle Worker” had been chosen for Cleburne’s 2018 One Act entry, she contemplated auditioning for a different part.
“At first I thought about auditioning for another part, because it would be great to be cast in another spectrum,” she said. “I wound up auditioning for the role of Helen’s mother, Kate Keller. But I also read for Anne Sullivan, and fell in love with the part all over again.”
“This is an opportunity for me to tell her story again,” English said. “She was such a great person. It had to have been very hard to find the balance between the strength and tough love Helen required from Anne, as her teacher, and the true love she had for Helen, a child who needed the kind of help only she could give.”
Cleburne’s One Act Play cast features a mix of both veterans and newcomers, which includes Katie Bicknell as Helen Keller; Flint Morgan and Noelle Mitchell as Captain and Mrs. Keller; Brooklyn Weger as Helen’s Aunt Eve; Andrew Slimp as her half-brother, James; Xakia Lacey as Beatrice; Brianna Rubel as Alice; Deion Talton as Viney; Brandon Finley as Anagnos; Isaac Nuñez as Percy and Gabriel Byrd as Martha. Byrd was also a member of Wheat’s 2014 “Miracle Worker” production, serving as the sound technician.
Making up Cleburne’s technical crew are Lauren Winchester on lights, Austin Price on sound and Stage Manager Maxwell Tindall. The production is under the direction of CHS theater arts teacher Keli Price, with Irving Elementary fifth grade teacher and Drama Club Sponsor Mindy Wilborn serving as assistant director.
English’s acting resume, which began in the seventh grade, has ranged from light comedy to Noel Coward’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” to musical theater, including the female lead on several occasions. “The Miracle Worker” is among her favorites.
“I really like dramatic productions like this,” she said. “It’s not dark, and while it’s emotional, it also has moments of lightness. However, there are some scenes I like more than others.”
One of the biggest scenes in the production has few lines, but is packed with acting—physical acting, as Anne tries to tame the “wild child” that Helen has become. It is among the numerous scenes English shares with Bicknell, who shows the power of her own performing skills in her portrayal of the deaf, dumb and blind Helen.
“The breakfast scene is very physical,” English said. “I have a few bruises on my knees, fingers and hands. It’s intense, but I love it so much because I feel very in touch with my character—I feel like I am Anne. I also love the ‘Helen’ scene at the end, where she finally understands what I’m signing.”
“Anne swore she’d never love again after the death of her brother,” English said. “But she came to love Helen. It’s so beautiful. I just love that—and I love this play.”
Theater Arts teacher Keli Price said the role of Anne Sullivan is challenging, and is quite the opposite of English’s personality.
“Alaina is a naturally bubbly and fun individual, while Anne Sullivan is driven and harsh,” Price said. “She has had to maintain a strong image for this character. We have spent many practices adjusting her posture, taming that bubbly nature and working short monologues in order to get her strength and the hardship of her life, as Anne, to show through. It’s something we continue to work on, yet Alaina has never balked at the challenge. She has worked every scene with great effort and tries her very best to give what is asked.”
Price says English’s versatility and work ethic are two things that truly stand out about her.
“Alaina has played two characters for me this year,” Price said. In Cleburne’s fall production of “High School Musical,” English was cast as the drama teacher.
“She embraced the role of the slightly eccentric Mrs. Darbus, even though Musical Theatre isn’t really where Alaina’s passions lie, because it requires you to be a singer. She wanted to work on this facet of theatre because she knew she would need chorus work in order to better herself in the musical world. She was always there for practice and worked daily on making her part better.”
“The final scene in ‘High School Musical’ isn’t about Mrs. Darbus, yet Alaina stole it with her excitement and her interaction with ‘the students’ in that last number. She was adorable—I found myself watching her expressions and enjoying her energy through that whole scene.”
English says while she loves the fun of musicals, she is no singer or dancer. She prefers a serious role, and those that make her laugh.
“I love a deep role, someone I can get lost in,” she said. “Those are the best characters. I also like the crazy, fun characters. But Anne Sullivan has been my favorite. She has taught me to be strong and to know that if you stay strong when you face hard times, you will get through. If Anne has taught me anything, it’s that.”
She is also thankful for what she learned, as student new to acting, from Wheat MS theater arts teacher Glynn Mitchell.
“I’ve grown with everything Mr. Mitchell taught me,” she said. “He is such a great teacher. I always begin every new part, every new production with his methods and go from there.”
“I feel I’ve been given a second chance, in getting to play Anne Sullivan a second time,” English said. “It’s a chance to put my all into it. We are hopeful to advance and have the chance to perform at Bi-District. Our plan is to perform our best, amaze the judges and leave the audience with their mouths hanging open.”
Alaina English, as Anne Sullivan, gives the blind and deaf Helen Keller, portrayed by Katie Bicknell, her first word in sign language during a scene from Cleburne High School’s UIL One Act Play entry, “The Miracle Worker.” English is reprising her role of Sullivan after first performing it as an eighth grader at Wheat Middle School.