production history

The show must go on

 

In 2020, we celebrate the 59th 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. 

 

William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, starring Patty Duke as Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, opened on Broadway in 1959, where it ran for 719 performances. 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. 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 was in attendance for The Miracle Worker during that 1980 season and returned a few more times before her death in 2016.

 

On one of her later visits, Patty Duke remarked that “my soul has come home.” Playwright William Gibson also visited the Birthplace several times before his death in 2008. 

 

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 1952. 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” even if the audience has to abide by social distancing. We are committed to keeping the show going for decades to come.

Patty Duke at Ivy Green, Early 1960's
Patty Duke with Patty Chambers Hughes who played Annie in the
1980 production at Ivy Green.
Ann Cash (Annie) and Theresa Conley (Helen)
in the first production
of The Miracle Worker at Ivy Green (1962)
Caroline Self (Annie) and Macy Ladner (Helen) in the 2004 production
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Helen Keller Birthplace Ampitheatre

300 North Commons Street West

Tuscumbia, AL 35674  

Contact Us: 256.383.4066