Director Elizabeth Ley still remembers the first line from the first play she was ever a part of: “Shh…shh!” She was in first grade and this was only the beginning of a long journey in theater arts filled with countless rehearsals, friendships, and moments on stage.
FROM FIRST PLAYS TO WILLOWS
Elizabeth Ley grew up attending a private school in China, where opportunities for theater were not plentiful. Yet her love of theater drove her to find the chances she could and she spent much of her childhood being involved with theater in some way. Eventually when she went to college, she held onto this passion by minoring in theater arts alongside her education major.
After college, she pursued a career in the classroom while involving her theater background as much as possible. She has been a classroom, middle school theater, and elementary school theater teacher. Ley stayed involved in community theater as well, both as an actor and a director.
She found her dream job in an elementary theater teaching position, combining both her passion for education as well as theater. She left this position when she and her husband welcomed her first child into their family because she wanted to spend more time with her son.
In the midst of this season, Ley was invited to a Willows Academy play through one of her husband’s piano students. When Ley’s husband overheard there that the program did not have a consistent director, he enthusiastically suggested his wife for the role.
Ley’s experience was perfect for the role and the after school rehearsal schedule was a divine opportunity for her to be as present in her son’s life as she wanted while still being able to stay in touch with her love for theater and education.
THE MIRACLE WORKER: BEGINNINGS AND CHALLENGES
Ley’s first task as director was to choose a play. She researched old Willows yearbooks and found that most of the previous plays were comedies, so she decided to challenge the girls to take on a serious drama. Ley settled on ‘The Miracle Worker,’ a play detailing the relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan through Sullivan’s point of view. The play moves from the pair meeting to Helen understanding what words and communication mean.
Ley recounts that there was some surprise from the students as they were introduced to the production. The heavier topics that the show addressed along with the more serious moments were different from what many of the girls were used to.
Along with the new genre came other challenges as well. As the play has a character who is blind and deaf, many of the scenes are very physical. Some of the girls found themselves unexpectedly exhausted after rehearsing particular scenes. One scene is five pages in the script with absolutely no dialogue. While challenging, these scenes stand out to Ley as some of her personal favorites to choreograph and work through.
There also were a host of technical challenges as well such as with props and staging. Ley is particularly grateful to one parent, who has gone above and beyond in helping address some of these challenges. Some of his contributions include (but are not limited to) building a whole platform for the set and making a vintage style water pump.
“There are definitely a lot of demands in this show technically as well as acting for the students,” Ley explains. “I’m really proud of how they’re willing to try something new but also just commit to the higher demands in different directions.”
Ley is excited to see everyone’s hard work pay off. She has loved seeing the scenes come together and relishes in particular the moments in rehearsal when the girls discover who their characters are on a deeper level. Watching them learn in this way has already made this a gratifying experience for Ley.
She has also been impressed with the strong sense of community at the school, evidenced in the way that the girls interact with and support one another. As opening night approaches, she is looking forward to sharing this story with the rest of the community.
“One of the beautiful things about theater is that it lets you experience the world from someone else’s point of view,” she comments. “The story addresses a lot of family dynamics, communication, learning and being together…it’s a story we can all relate to and hopefully learn from.”
Willows Academy presents ‘The Miracle Worker’: Thursday, October 20 – Saturday, October 22 at 7PM at Prairie Lakes Theater in Des Plaines. Tickets can be purchased online at willowsacademy.ticketspice.com/the-miracle-worker