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"Miracle Worker" Teaches Perseverance, Something Learned by Local Actress/Teacher

Stage classic The Miracle Worker is the season opener for the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continuing through Oct. 1. It's the story of teacher Annie Sullivan and her blind and mute student Helen Keller. 

Only Annie realizes that violent and spoiled Helen has a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark, tortured silence. Brooke Chamberlin and Rebecca Whatley will play Annie and Helen at the Covedale.

Torie Pate, teaching artist at The Carnegie in Covington, practices the adage, "don’t just teach, do." A veteran character actress in musicals and dramas, she calls herself more “picky” about her time and her roles since she’s been raising a family (She did spend part of her summer performing in the debut of The Villa Players Summer Shakespeare at Thomas More College).

When she was invited to join the cast of The Miracle Worker by Greg Procaccino, one of the indie theater scene’s best directors, Pate said yes “without a second thought.” She’s playing Helen’s Aunt Ev.

“I remember watching the film version with Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke as a kid and thinking what an amazing woman Anne Sullivan was. For me, that is the reason I love this story and would recommend it for young audiences,” she said.

“My children, ages 12 and eight, will be coming to see the show, not just because I'm a part of it, but because it teaches such an important lesson: perseverance. 

“Anne Sullivan didn't give up - not on herself, and not on Helen Keller. She didn't allow her perceived limitations - being severely visually impaired, coming from a poor family, and frankly, just being a woman in the late 1800s - to deter her from her goals. It's an amazing story of persistence and determination."

So how did Pate get started in theater? She persevered.

After her first real audition (in sixth grade) when she wasn’t cast as one of the Von Trapp children in a high school production of The Sound Of Music, she has never looked back.

After that early rejection, “I didn’t get discouraged. I loved being on stage performing and making people smile. So I just kept auditioning for school plays, and the summer musicals the college in my town produced.

“I got in the chorus of a few shows, a featured part here and there, and finally in the eughth grade I got my first big role: the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. That role, more than any other I think, taught me how to create and stay in character for an entire performance.

“I performed all through high school and although I always wanted to be the ingenue, I was always cast as the quirky sidekick, or the old lady.

“That’s somewhat discouraging to a teenager when you just want to be pretty on stage, but now I’m glad the directors realized my comedic ability. It gave me a lot more confidence later on when I realized there are fewer people competing for those supporting roles. Some of my most rewarding roles over the years have been those small comedic characters.

“When it came time to decide on college and what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I chickened out and chose not to major in theatre. I didn’t think a girl from a small town in Ohio could make a career of acting.

“So I decided to major in psychology, but I chose a school, the University of Dayton, that had an open music and theatre program so I could still perform on the side.  

“It didn’t take long for me to realize that acting was where my heart was, and long story short, I switched majors and became a theatre major. I was very fortunate in college to be able to perform often, both on the main stage and in student productions, and also got the opportunity to perform professionally from time to time.

“By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to head to Cincinnati. I had contacts in the theatre community here, and my boyfriend/future husband (Dave) also happened to be in Cincinnati.

“I auditioned as much as I could and did temp work to pay the bills. Along the way I met some truly wonderful people in the theatre community who have become life-long friends.

“When my husband and I decided to start a family, I knew I wanted to stay home with my kids (Jake and Maddie). I am much more  picky about the shows I audition for now, and though I work fairly steadily, I don’t perform as much as I used to.

“My husband is incredibly supportive of my acting career which makes it very easy to balance work and home. Not to say we haven’t had our share of challenges -- I’ve had to bring my kids to rehearsals because I haven’t been able to find a babysitter, but thankfully, the theatre community is very understanding.

“There are days, though, especially during tech, when I only get to see my family for a few minutes, and there have been plenty of “why are you leaving us” tears over the years. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything!

“Once Jake and Maddie were in school all day, I decided I needed something to do during the day besides housework and binge-watching Netflix.

“I saw a job opening for a teaching artist in the Education Department at The Carnegie, and thought I would just take a shot. I thought, “A job interview is just like an audition, right?

“I never saw myself as an educator, per se, but I realized during my interview that this was the perfect fit for me. “I think it’s so important to show children that we aren’t just teaching them about the arts, but that we, as teaching artists, are living our art on a daily basis.

“I get to share my love of the theatre with a whole new generation of children who, at the very least, will grow up to appreciate and patronize the arts, and if we are very lucky, some of these children will choose the arts as their path in life.”

The Miracle Worker, through Oct. 1. The Covedale Centr for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Ave. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Adults $27, $24 students and seniors. www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com  and 513- 241-6550. For more information visit the website: www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com 

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts