Anne Sullivan’s struggle to pierce the darkness of Helen Keller’s world comes to life in “The Miracle Worker” on the WILLow LeaVes of Hope stage this weekend.

“The Miracle Worker” is Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor’s first major directing project, she says.

Connie Baylor says her daughter, Kathryn, has always been interested in the story of Helen Keller and asked her to take on the project. It was a challenge Connie readily accepted as not many dramatic plays are offered at WILLow LeaVes of Hope, she says.

“We do a lot of comedies there, which are a lot of fun,” Connie says. “But every once in a while, it is nice to have a drama to shake things up a bit. I am hoping it opens the door for more dramas at WILLow LeaVes.”

The nearly two-hour-long play is as physically demanding as it is dramatic, Connie says.

Although set design was challenging, watching the story unfold live is the best part, she says.

“It is always exciting to see the written word come to life with actors and to see how they portray their characters and develop them,” she says. “It is especially exciting to see Kathryn take on this role because so much of it is based on facial expressions and body language.”

Most audiences are likely familiar with the story through exposure of books about Helen Keller or seeing the 1962 film “The Miracle Worker” starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. The stage play of the same name was originally written by William Gibson in 1959 and is based on “The Story of My Life,” the autobiography of Helen Keller written in 1902.

The play dramatizes the volatile struggle of Anne Sullivan who is charged with teaching the blind and mute Helen Keller. And it is capturing and conveying the struggle and frustration of Keller that Kathryn Baylor says has presented the biggest challenge. 

“Focusing on being able to react to what my cues are but still looking like I am ignoring them is difficult,” 18-year-old Baylor says. “There are times when someone will set something down and I have to reach for it on cue and not instinctively when I want to.”

Kathryn says she has always had a fascination with blindness as her own eyesight has persistently presented a challenge as she has worn bifocals since she was a toddler.

“I always thought blindness was an interesting topic and thought this role would be a challenge to do,” Kathryn says. “I like challenging myself here and there.”

As Kathryn has found, even challenges can present opportunities for expanding her acting ability while having some fun in the process.

During the iconic table fight scene between Sullivan and Keller, Kathryn dives into her role throwing things and climbing on the table, she says.

“The table fight is definitely my favorite bit because there is so much action in it,” she says. “And you are constantly doing something, whereas with the rest of it I have to focus on ignoring everyone and be in my own little world.”

Julia Fisher-Blair, who portrays Anne Sullivan, says figuring out how to convey things to Kathryn without verbal cues onstage while keeping the audience engaged forces her to get creative.

“A lot of my scenes are with Helen and she can’t see or hear me,” Blair says. “To realistically make that happen onstage and be confident I am engaging the audience at the same time is not easy.”

Blair says her personal experience with a deaf/mute peer in her early adolescence served as a catalyst that fed her fascination and appreciation for those like Sullivan who dedicate their time to breaking through barriers to change others’ lives.

“I would like to see the audience be able to understand that everyone has things in their life that affect them in different ways,” she says. “We tend to look at people and discount them or think negatively about them based on their behavior. I would like the audience to take away the realization that we all have our own stories and challenges.”