December 9, 2008 by Jo
When I was little, Mom would make me read this book called Helen Keller’s Teacher. It was a children’s version of Annie Sullivan’s biography, and I loved it. We went to Ivy Green and saw the production. I read other biographies and just basically got to know Annie.
In 1992 we paid our first visit to Talladega for camp and while driving through town realized it was the home of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf & Blind. Throughout the 16 years I’ve gone to camp at Shocco Springs, I’ve managed to drive through the AIDB campus, visit the Helen Keller Memorial Garden, hang out with the AIDB students, and teach deaf students about the Lord. Really cool.
When I graduated high school my family started our involvement in community theatre. I worked backstage on a couple of shows and then decided to audition with my new-found best friend for a show at Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater. We both got roles and thus my path was laid.
I worked. Hard. Theatre was my life, for a little while. I dated the lighting guy which turned into doing pretty much only that for about 5 months, unless I made it into a show…and then I did both. My Dad was often Tech Director so my nights were spent painting, holding, gluing, hammering. It was a great couple of years.
When I landed my first adult role in TH’s Last Night of Ballyhoo, I was stoked. Even though I wasn’t as good as I could’ve been, I didn’t know any better at the time; I just worked. Hard. I just did my job as an actress; knew my lines, had my blocking down, and gave myself over to the role.
After I got that part, I started to take it all more seriously. I stopped trying out for every part that came along just because I was almost twenty-something, slightly pretty, and dependable. I began to study for the roles I wanted, began to dream of which parts I’d really like someday, and started building relationships within the theatre community…I wanted people close who could push me and teach me.
And then I remembered Ivy Green, I remembered Annie Sullivan.
When I heard last year that TH was going to produce The Miracle Worker, I knew it would take everything in me to land that role; Annie, this triumphant, lonely, brilliant but common historical character. Annie, this woman who opened up an entire world for Helen Keller. Annie, who got married but never had children, who saw Helen as God’s reason to put her on this planet.
So I studied. I pulled out old books and used new technology to read up on her. I read the play, out loud, over and over and over until my neighbors probably wanted to scream (my duplex walls are thin). I wasn’t going to phone this in. I was going to prove how badly I wanted this.
We auditioned Sunday night; spent a little over an hour doing physical work with the Helen wannabes and then read as Annie. I conveyed her as naturally as I could; I’m not a “trained” actress, although I’ve participated in workshops and spend my spare time reading about the craft and learning from my sister, Katie (who is still the best there is). I’ve been a performer all my life; even through my really REALLY shy years my parents forced me to try. So I tried. I portrayed Annie the way I’ve always felt her; sad, sarcastic, and direct (and yes, those things are a lot of how I feel me, too).
Last night, as soon as rehearsal for The Book of Liz was over, we all rushed to the second round of auditions. There were a lot more people there; some I expected, some I didn’t. I was prepared mentally to just let the part go if it wasn’t in the stars this time, but I would fight for it otherwise.
When the time came, I read. I fought with one of the little girls auditioning for Helen. I could not hide my nervousness or my heart…I just wore it on my sleeve. I’ve grown out of being afraid of what other people will think if I show my vulnerability, so I did. When I finished reading I plainly looked at Jeff for his approval. I locked eyes with Sam, my theatre soulmate who wanted Kate as bad as I wanted Annie. I knew I’d done my best, which is all anyone can do.
And last night, when they said “Annie will be played by Joanna White”…it felt good.
Really, really good.