Arts

Wetherleigh Griffin, 11, sits on the table after acting out a tantrum scene as Helen Keller in preparation for the "The Miracle Worker" performance, in Kodiak on March 30. (Nicole Klauss photo)

On stage Wetherleigh Griffin plays a blind, deaf and mute 6-year-old girl. Off-stage, she’s just a fifth-grader enjoying acting.

Griffin, 11, was cast to play Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” which debuts next week in the Gerald C. Wilson Drama Pod. The play tells the story of a young girl who can’t see, hear or speak, and has a raging temper. Anne Sullivan is hired to serve as Keller’s governess and teacher, and works with Keller to teach her discipline and language using her fingers.

Griffin tried out for the play at her parents’ suggestion and landed the lead role. Her acting background includes roles in local performances of “Les Miserables” and “Beowulf on a Budget.”

“I like acting because I get to pretend I’m someone who I’m not, and I get to have a lot of characteristics that I don’t normally have,” Griffin said.

Director Lissa Jensen said the auditions for Helen Keller were not traditional, since the role doesn’t have speaking parts.

“How do you audition for Helen Keller?” Jensen asked.

She had interested girls go through an obstacle course of chairs on stage while pretending to be blind and having a temper tantrum.

“We just did things like pretend you can’t see while you’re having a tantrum,” she said. “We just played, and then from there I could see who had the emotional maturity to handle that.”

Griffin had a sense of stage and knew not to break her character during the auditions.

“She is a little bit taller, but she was so good at the role, I picked her,” Jensen said.

Griffin said learning to have a tantrum was challenging because it’s not in her personality.

“The tantrum was hard because I hadn’t had any practice,” she said. “Because at my house I’m the good kid.”

Making Helen Keller's grunts and whimpers comes slightly easier to her.

“It came naturally because I am not a morning person so when I wake up, I always grunt,” Griffin said.

She also had to figure out a strategy to appear blind and deaf.

“I just find a focal point and I don’t wear my glasses,” Griffin said. “To pretend I’m deaf, I just don’t listen.”

Since there are no lines for Griffin to memorize, her actions have to say it all. She has a specific set of choreographed movements she had to memorize including throwing herself on the floor, climbing on tables, and fighting with other characters.

“The Miracle Worker” will run from April 12-14. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 10 and younger.

Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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