In Part 2 of the series of interviews with the cast of Rockville Little Theatre’s The Miracle Worker, meet Lena Winter.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on the stage before. What roles did you play in these shows?
I’m Lena Winter and I’m a graduate of the Honors Acting Conservatory at the Theatre Lab School of Dramatic Arts in Washington, D.C. I’ve performed extensively in the DC metro area; most recently I originated the role of Rita in the world-premier of The Emperor of North America at Silver Spring Stage. This will be my fourth show with Rockville Little Theatre (RLT); I previously appeared in The Great Gatsby (Myrtle Wilson), The Miser (Elise) and An Inspector Calls (Shelia). Some recent roles also include Reggie Fluty, Leigh Fondakowski and others in The Laramie Project (Kensington Arts Theater); Joan Plowright in Orson’s Shadow, and Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing (Silver Spring Stage). I’m also a voice actor. You may have heard me as the Interface and other characters in the sci-fi audio drama EOS 10, which can be found on iTunes and SoundCloud.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of The Miracle Worker?
I first read The Miracle Worker when I was in 6th grade. I found the play to be very inspiring, and I looked forward to the day when I would be old enough to audition for Kate or Annie, the roles that interested me. As soon as I saw that RLT had the show in their season, I knew I had to audition. I was also excited for the chance to work again with Director Laura Andruski. I had recently worked with her on A Room with a Clue, a very fun murder mystery for A Taste for Murder Productions. It was a short rehearsal process, and I was impressed with how professionally she ran things. I knew I wanted the chance to work with her on longer project at a deeper level.
Who do you play in the show? How do you relate to him or her? What traits do you share? Does this character remind you of a similar character that you have played before?
I play Annie Sullivan, who is hired by the Kellers to get through to their deaf and blind daughter, Helen. A lot of people already know of her, and have an idea of her strength and tenacity. But what surprised me the most about Annie is how sassy she is, especially for a woman of the late Victorian era! I would like to think I share her tenacity, but truth be told it’s probably the sass we have most in common.
Speaking as a younger actress, Annie is a very unique character. Almost every character I have ever played has been defined by her relationship to a man; I’ve played a long string of roles that have so-and-so’s girlfriend, daughter, wife, or mistress next to their name on the character page. Nothing in Annie’s character arc has to do with getting or keeping a man, and I find that incredibly refreshing.
What is The Miracle Worker about from the point of view of your character?
Annie Sullivan, a working-class Irish immigrant from Boston, who is only 20 years old and formerly blind herself, finds herself in completely foreign territory when she is sent to teach Helen, a deaf and blind child in Alabama in the 1880s. Helen is unable to communicate, and the family has made no attempt to discipline or control her. Annie must find a way to get through to her before she can get to her ultimate goal, teaching Helen language. Meanwhile, Annie must deal with the demons from her past, as well attempt to forge a relationship and unlikely alliance with Helen’s family despite their misgivings about her background and personality, not to mention her methods.
What challenges have you had preparing for the role, and how did Director Laura Andruski help you through these challenges? What was the best advice she gave you on how to play your role?
I’m pretty good at memorization, but I was daunted by the sheer number of lines, not to mention the amount of physical business (in a corset, petticoats and heeled boots, no less) I would have to learn. It’s not a stretch to say this is the most challenging role I have ever taken on. Laura’s confidence in my abilities alone has been invaluable. I tend to be a pretty independent actor, and Laura has let me go and make my own discoveries, offering guidance to steer me in the right direction as needed.
It’s also a challenge to play a role that is well-known and associated with a specific actor (Anne Bancroft in this case). I was very careful to not watch or even read about any other performances; it is very important to me that I was able to discover who Annie is organically, and not inadvertently copy someone else’s interpretation.
What is your favorite line or lines that your character says, and what is your favorite line that someone else says in the show?
I don’t get to play comedy very often, and I really enjoy Annie’s more humorous lines. The play is funnier than most people realize! Annie has built a lot of walls, and she uses humor to deflect. She has many great moments; she’s not afraid to wind people up and watch them go, especially Captain Keller. After one of Annie’s more difficult moments, she has a heart-to-heart with Captain Keller, and it’s the least guarded she is with him the whole show. It’s my favorite scene, partially because of the content, and because Brian, who plays Captain Keller, is so enjoyable to work with.
Outside of that scene, I especially enjoy the line, “Please, pass me more of her favorite foods,” which is delivered to James during a disastrous meal at the end of the play. They antagonize each other throughout most of the show, but it occurs after they stand up for each other. It is an olive branch that Annie offers to him, which is a perfect illustration of the importance of subtext. At face value, the line seems like a throw-away, but Jordan (James) and I were able to make a moment out of it. James also has the amazing line, “Over my dead… chair,” which is my personal favorite in the whole show.
What does The Miracle Worker have to say to today’s audiences?
There has been a lot of talk lately about how we treat people with disabilities, and that is an important theme in The Miracle Worker. Both of the main characters deal with their own disabilities, although Annie grew up in poverty and is completely self-reliant, and Helen has been spoiled by her family through pity. The main message to me is that Annie became a great teacher not in spite of her own struggles, but because they gave her a unique empathy for her student and a determination to never give up.
Why should local theatergoers come and see The Miracle Worker?
The Miracle Worker is the rare play that an entire family can see together, and one that will provoke discussions about how we learn, grow and obtain knowledge. This is a very heartfelt production. A lot of love has been poured into it, both onstage and behind the scenes, and I think that will come through in performances.
If you could change what happens to your character, what would you like to see happening to your character at the end of the play?
The show ending is beautiful, and I wouldn’t change much. However, I would have liked to have had closure with James, Helen’s brother, but I think Jordan and I have been able to craft a nice moment during the “favorite foods” line.
What advice would you give a young actor who is preparing to play your role in his/her school production of The Miracle Worker?
Don’t watch other actors’ performances when you prepare for the role. Everyone associates the role of Annie with Anne Bancroft; don’t let that get in your head. You were cast because you brought something unique to the role; don’t try to emulate another actor. Get off book as soon as you can! It’s always important, but Annie is a very physical role. It’s impossible to do much of the physical scenes that make up a large part of the show when you have a script in your hands.
Also a tip I have for all actors: take your script to your local office supply shop and have them cut off the binding and get it spiral bound. This way, your script can lay flat or fold in half, which makes things so much easier when you’re rehearsing!
What’s next for you on the stage?
I’m currently waiting to hear back from some auditions. I’m also getting reading to record the third season of EOS 10, as well as jumping into producing my own narrative podcasts. I think it will be a creatively busy 2017 for me!
The Miracle Worker plays on weekends from February 3 through 12, 2017 at Rockville Little Theatre performing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 314-8690 or purchase them online.
Interview: Meet the Cast of ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Rockville Little Theatre. Part 1: Meredith Abramson.