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The Miracle Worker: Legally Blind Shasta College Student Plays Helen Keller

Photo by Peter Griggs.

There are many challenges to playing a 6-and-a-half year old, blind, deaf, spoiled child, but 19-year-old Marissa Cozens has one advantage over other actors: She is legally blind and sees only shapes and shadows without her glasses.

Marissa, in her second year at Shasta College, plays Helen Keller when “The Miracle Worker” opens at the Shasta College Theater Thursday.

Marissa learned the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet when she was in high school because a couple of her friends were learning sign language.

Photos by Peter Griggs.

“I grew up hearing about Helen Keller,” she said. “I can at least see shapes. But I know how difficult it is not to be able to see … how annoying.”

She was 11 when she got her first glasses after she had moved up to the front row in class and still couldn’t see what was on the blackboard. She is both near-sighted and far-sighted and her vision is gradually getting worse. However, she said, “Helen struggled all the time to communicate.”

Until Helen Keller learned the rudiments of sign language and connected the sign to a thing, such as water, she could not communicate. That magic moment happens in the play.

“There’s an awakening inside her,” Marissa said of Keller.

Besides the cast, five ASL interpreters from the program at Shasta College will be interpreting for the audience. Learning the script in Sign is a lot of work for the interpreters, according to Hope Trotter, a 20-year-old Early Childhood Education major. She is the interpreter for Lauren Hofer who is playing Helen’s resilient teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Hope has taken four years of sign language, but says the rehearsals alone take twelve hours a week. She also studies at home by having someone read the script to her while she signs.

The Miracle Worker is directed by Gregory Thorson and opens October 15 at 7 p.m. at the Shasta College Theater.

Performance dates are: October 15-18 and 22-24 at the Shasta College Theatre. All shows start at 7:00 p.m., except for the matinee on October 18 which starts at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available at the door for $8 (general admission) and $5 (seniors and students) or online through the Shasta College website.

This inspiring play is perfect for audiences of all ages. There will be three performances of The Miracle Worker that are sign language interpreted. These performances are 10/16, 10/18 and 10/24.Tickets can be ordered online at ShastaCollege.edu.