60 Years of Miracles at Ivy Green
In 2021, we celebrate the 60th Annual Production of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker outdoors at Ivy Green, the Birthplace of Helen Keller. Every year since 1962, this moving story of the triumph of the human spirit has been told on the grounds where Annie Sullivan taught Helen Keller the meaning of language. Today, the production brings people from all over the world and is the Official Outdoor Drama for the State of Alabama.
Not long after the Broadway run, Patty Duke visited Tuscumbia to experience Ivy Green. While in Tuscumbia, she was interviewed by Lyn Wagnon, who, along with Ward Wagnon, ran the Starmaker Community Playhouse in Tuscumbia. The idea for producing The Miracle Worker on the grounds of Ivy Green was born.
The Miracle Worker opened at Ivy Green on June 29, 1962 to a capacity crowd. It was a hit, and a yearly tradition began on the Ivy Green grounds. A month later, the Academy Award winning film of The Miracle Worker, produced by Fred Coe, directed by Arthur Penn, and starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, was released.
Ten years after the first performance on the grounds, a tragic fire struck Ivy Green on April 8, 1972, and many of the props for The Miracle Worker that were stored in the attic of the Keller Shrine were destroyed. In only a few months, a new stage would need to be built on the other side of the lawn, a new lighting system would be needed, and the seating would need to be changed. The Miracle Worker faced closure, but after much deliberation, the decision was made. “The show must go on.”
In the 1970s, the play was performed behind the house, using the real pump for the “miracle” scene. Seating was much more limited than it is today. With Helen Keller’s 100th birthday approaching on June 27, 1980, the decision was made to build an amphitheatre in time for the 1980 production so thousands more people could experience “the miracle” every summer. That amphitheatre was built on the site where the play is produced today. Patty Duke, who won an Emmy for portrayal of Annie Sullivan in 1979, was in attendance for The Miracle Worker at Ivy Green during that 1980 season. Duke returned to Ivy Green a few times before her death in 2016. On one of her later visits, Patty Duke remarked that “finally, my spirit has come home.”
The set that was built in 1980 remained standing until 2003 when the set was rebuilt and the lighting/ sound equipment modernized. The current set was built in 2015 with major improvements made for the 2020 production.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shut down Ivy Green to tours for the first time since it opened as a museum in 1954. Without revenue from tours and with gathering restrictions in place, The Miracle Worker once again faced cancellation, but again, the decision was made that “the show must go on”. You are watching a play that has been performed on these grounds every summer since 1962. Now, more than ever, we are committed to keeping the miracle alive for generations to come.