Directorial debutBy MEGAN PHILLIPS,
Alex Reichle presenting ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Jackson Prep June 22-23
Alex Reichle is already aiming high when it comes to her academics and especially her love for the stage.
A graduating senior at Jackson Preparatory School, Alex will be attending Wellesley College this fall, where she will study neuroscience and linguistics.
But before she’s off to college, Alex is directing her first play, “The Miracle Worker,” at Jackson Prep. The play features the story of Helen Keller and the first two weeks with her new teacher, Anne Sullivan.
“This will be my first time to direct a show,” Alex said. “But I’ve been doing more tech work for the last couple of years. I’ve been stage manager and helping build sets. I’ve usually been acting alongside that, but this year, I’ve decided to step back from acting to see what I can do directing-wise, because I believe it’s such an important story to tell.”
Alex has been involved in drama since her ninth-grade year. Among some of her work, she’s acted in and been a theatrical technician in “The Music Man,” “Footloose,” “The Dining Room,” “The Lottery,” “Treasure Island” and “The Traveling Lady.”
Now, Alex will be taking over the summer theater program at Prep, initiated by former student Gregor Patti.
“He started this (opportunity) where, in the summer, he would produce his own show and direct it. He did “Of Mice and Men” and “Death of a Salesman” and all sorts of cool shows. He graduated… And then, after thinking on it and some real consideration, I decided I would take it on for myself.”
This is Alex’s chance to direct a play she’s been asking drama director Kenneth McDade to produce since her sophomore year. She even drew set plans to convince him, and now she’s able to fulfill her dream before she moves to Massachusetts.
The storyline means a lot to Alex because of her love of linguistics, which could stem from her mother’s work as a teacher at the Mississippi School for the Deaf.
“This year, he said, ‘No one has agreed to take on Gregor’s summer show yet. Would you think about doing “The Miracle Worker”?’… Personally, for me, it’s been in the works for a while, but it didn’t really get started until this year.”
Alex was finally able to get started on the work early this semester, and she started raising money at the beginning of May, after the school’s last play, Treasure Island, was complete.
“I needed to wait until everything was done with Treasure Island to make sure I wasn’t distracting from that,” she said.
With an original goal of $3,000, Alex is almost halfway to her goal, with a total of $1,390 raised so far.
“We’re completely funded by donations. We have no money or financial support that is given to us (from Prep). We’ve been really lucky to raise a lot of money through GoFundMe. But, we still have a ways to go, because it costs money to even do the show with licensing and copyrights… It’s been amazing how many people have shown up and been so generous.”
Donations have come from a mix of students, parents and teachers.
“It was the greatest feeling to realize there really is a community out there that wants to the arts flourish.”
“The Miracle Worker,” a play written by William Gibson, is about the efforts of Anne Sullivan in her first two weeks teaching deaf-mute Helen Keller.
Rehearsals began at the end of May.
“It’s centered around the first two weeks that she’s with her and trying to give Helen access to language,” Alex said. “It’s just a story of how important it is to have someone dedicated and passionate to language and what that can do once you open up those avenues. Not necessarily taking pity on people, but asking the best of everyone.”
Alex said she was also drawn to the story because of her mom’s work at the Mississippi School for the Deaf. Holly Reichle has been a teacher there for approximately 20 years. She teaches sixth through eighth-grade reading and literature.
“There was kind of a community there, where I knew quite a few people… I love the story, and I thought it was a very necessary story to tell, because I think language is very important… It’s always been something that fascinated me, so, when I got the opportunity, I was like, ‘This is perfect.’ ”
Besides the 10 or so Prep high school students in the play, Prep eighth-grader Anna Voynik will play Helen Keller.
Alex is also involving a couple of First Presbyterian Day School students and a few from the Mississippi School for the Deaf.
“The fact that it’s a story that they would relate to and giving them an opportunity (to be in it). They don’t really have a drama program, and I thought it would be a very good way to see if they would enjoy it.”
Alex couldn’t ask too many students because of the small cast in the play, and she also asked students she knew.
“On some level, I have to vouchsafe for everyone that I bring in, because we do rehearse on campus. I need to know who I’m bringing on campus.”
However, every student from the Mississippi School for the Deaf as well as from the Mississippi School for the Blind will be invited to see the play.
Alex said she’s not sure what challenges she’ll have when working with deaf students on stage, but she knows sign language and understands the importance of communication.
“I’ve experienced working with students from the Mississippi School for the Deaf before. It’s always been pretty important to make sure you have open communication and make sure that you don’t make them feel isolated. Other than that, what’s going to be the most important thing is making sure we build up (communication) between hearing students and students from the Mississippi School for the Deaf that choose to do (the play).”
One challenge Alex has already had with the play was the auditioning portion.
“It was weird to audition for a cast where one of the main characters has no lines. There’s a very famous scene where Anne’s trying to get Helen to sit in a chair, and Helen is pitching a fit… It was interesting to see just how people look at that. It was a very physical audition with some physical prop work, too, because there was no other way to see who would work well.”
Alex is more than excited about the opportunity to direct a play about something she’s already so passionate about through an art form she loves.
“I’m just really fortunate to be able to do this, and I’m very, very excited.”
Although she’s studying neuroscience and linguistics when she attends Wellesley, she’ll always be an actress as well.
“It will always be something that I’m very passionate about, even if I don’t do it as a career… It’s something I really care about… I figure there’s always going to be some community theater somewhere.”
“The Miracle Worker” will have three showings: 7 p.m. on June 22, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on June 23 at Fortenberry Theatre at Prep.
Tickets can be bought online at boxoffice.jacksonprep.net.