It's part of the magic of theater that bands of strangers come together and convince us, after a few weeks of rehearsals, that they're families with lifelong backstories and relationships. But Seed Art Share's immersive production of The Miracle Worker (directed by Dustin Britt), the biographical drama based on the childhood of deaf and blind author and activist Helen Keller, has an ace in the hole.
The actors playing the Kellers—father Arthur, wife Kate, and daughter Helen—are already a family. When nine-year-old Havana Blum plays Helen for a weekend in Raleigh's Fletcher Park, her actual mother and father, Rebecca and Seth Blum, will be acting as her parents in the show.
It's far from the first time that the two generations of this Raleigh theater family have shared the stage. Havana and her two sisters, Scarlett and Eowyn, were the hapless children of Macduff, while Seth played Banquo, in Bare Theatre's memorable outdoor production of Macbeth at Raleigh Little Theatre. Where was mom? In the director's chair: Rebecca Blum's innovative take shed new light on Shakespeare's darkest tale. By her count, various family members have worked together in some twenty-four regional productions to date.
The earliest debut among them was the conscientious but still mischievous thirteen-year-old Eowyn, who's working offstage in The Miracle Worker as a production assistant/kid wrangler. She was eleven months old when she played the changeling child in a 2006 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Seth still remembers how the squalling baby backstage invariably smiled and waved at the audience the moment she was brought on.
"The director cut her time on stage from a minute to thirty seconds," he says. "No one was paying attention to the exposition."
Having a show-biz family might seem like the logical outcome for an artistic couple who met while working on Theatre in the Park's The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) in 1998. But a theatrical career was never automatically in the cards for the Blum children. Still, Seth was in favor of it; in his experience, there was no community more accepting.
"It welcomes all kinds and all values and teaches team-building, patience, and self-discovery," he says. "I couldn't think of anything I would love better for a child than to be in this place of great acceptance."
But Rebecca couldn't easily shake the memories of her own early theatrical experiences.
"My self-esteem was wrapped up completely in whether I got cast or not, and when I did not, it was devastating," she says. "I did not want that for them."
The Blums ultimately decided to expose their children to theater and then "play it by ear." The results so far? All three daughters are professional actors with representation; all have performed on stage, in film, and in commercials and shows on television. The sparkling Scarlett, the youngest and currently highest-paid actor in the house, was six when she got a role on the Fox TV series The Gifted.
The kicker? None of the girls ultimately wants a career in acting. Currently, they want to be a foreign ambassador, a dolphin trainer, and a scientist/engineer when they grow up.
"I'm fine with that," Rebecca says. "At least so far, their self-worth is not tied up in a shallow and often mysteriously judgmental industry."
Havana, who played Minka Kelly's daughter and Andie MacDowell's granddaughter in the April Hallmark TV film The Beach House, is thoughtful and focused as she talks about her role as Helen. She's already finished reading her fourth book on her subject, and she's spent a lot of time imagining her way into the character.
"She's really smart," Havana says. "A lot of people don't know Helen had already come up with fifty signs for people and things in her home before [teacher] Annie Sullivan came. ... She likes to feel the garden; she can tell which flower's which by their smell and feel. She loves to lie in the grass when she's tired; it smells good and feels really nice on her feet."
Havana says her biggest challenge in the role is not looking at other actors—but for a reason that isn't immediately obvious. Helen's role is very physical; one scene with Sullivan is basically a knockdown, drag-out brawl over breakfast. The problem: Fight choreography, which keeps the actors safe, is based on constant communication.
"Imagine doing hand-to-hand stage combat without making eye contact," Rebecca says.
Working on a show together can provide—and relieve—some stressors in family relationship, the Blums say. Though The Miracle Worker is usually considered a play about teaching a girl who is deaf and blind to communicate, the drama is really about a family that can't communicate. If the Blums aren't facing challenges as severe as the Kellers, Seth notes, "We've still got these issues, on some level. What family doesn't? Working through parenting issues as the Kellers while we're working through parenting issues as the Blums—it can't help but have echoes on stage."