I do understand both sides of the controversy of casting a sighted and hearing actor to portray a Deafblind character - the money issue and wanting 'star power'; the objections regarding Ms Breslin's role and whatnot. There are some statements (mainly from the Miracle Worker thread on www.Broadwayworld.com/board ) that I would like to clear up:
Many (successful) productions of The Miracle Worker have used hearing/sighted actors - Patty Duke, Melissa Gilbert, Hilary Swank, the Pepsi kid in the TV-made version... Where were the objections regarding those casting decisions?
With Abigail Breslin in the role, her ready-made audience will show up, fueling greating awareness of deafblindness and Helen Keller's legacy. So with her in the role, it can enhance theatergoers' knowledge. (Though I do object that they did not audition deaf/blind/deafblind children when they made the casting decision - only after for the role of the understudy... to me, that's sending out the wrong message.)
The statement about it being easier to cast a hearing/sighted actor in the role for safety reasons is uncalled for. With this statement, the original thought was that a Deaf, blind or deafblind actor was liable for greater risks of injury, either to oneself or another actor? Take the fight scene - I've seen several (hearing AND sighted) Helens take a header into the orchestra pit. So, if the risk is there for a hearing/sighted actor taking a tumble, the same goes for deaf/blind/deafblind actors as well.
Another comment stated that it would take longer to train the deaf/blind/deafblind actor in catching the cues. Longer? No. A deaf/blind/deafblind actor can learn the cues the same way a hearing/sighted actor can - just in different ways. Instead of an auditory cue, they could substitute a visual/tactile cue. One needs to think outside of the box regarding cues and accomodations. It's not impossible.
My question is, what kind of accomodations will they offer to the audience? Since it's got Helen, I'm sure there will be a greater turnout of deaf/blind/deafblind theater patrons - so what services will be provided - and when? Will they follow the customary one-interpreted-performance and/or one-captioned-performance - or will they go out of their way and make all performances accessible via means of captioning or Supertitles (cheaper than hiring an interpreter for the full run of the production). Will scripts-on-demand be made available? That's what I'm wondering about. (It would be ironic if they did not offer some sort of accomodations...)
This sceanrio makes me reminisce about my FAME days and the controversy it fueled. I auditioned, got in - and immediately I got notices of "pity casting" and "Deaf cannot succed in musicals" as well as "Deaf people can't play hearing characters". I did not hear/see any comments about our Tyrone Jackson being Caucasian instead of African-American; that our Carmen Diaz was not Latina at all, but a Caucasian Idaho-born native. Why the flak about a Deaf actor performing in the ensemble? There was also the comment about no Deaf/hard of hearing students at the FAME school (LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts) circa 1980-1984 (the years the story takes place). How do they know that? Sure, we had challenges - the cues, the musical numbers, whatnot but we pulled it off by working as a team. Acting is all about teamwork - helping one another and being helped in return.
"I'm alive and I will survive... show the world that I can take it... when I hit the heights... put my name in lights...." - FAME on 42nd Street
For further information regarding the controversies surrounding this production, please visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/advocacy-group-opposes-miracle-worker-casting-choice/
Remember, it goes both ways.