When Ayla Schwartz isn’t busy being a fourth-grader at Watchung Elementary School, she’s performing a miracle—Ayla is starring as Helen Keller in a new production of The Miracle Worker at the Queens Theatre.
At 10 years old, Ayla is getting her first opportunity to be part of a professional production, and The Miracle Worker is putting her to the test. In order to play Keller, who became deaf and blind when she was just 19 months old, Ayla did training with a disability coach and a fight choreographer, and even used a blindfold and earplugs during rehearsals to better understand how Keller experienced the world.
For Ayla’s mother, Montclair resident Elaine Schwartz, seeing her daughter take on this role is especially meaningful: Elaine is an occupational therapist, and says, “When I was a child learning about Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan, I decided I too wanted to serve people with disabilities as I was so inspired by their heroic story. Today, I have a small private practice where I work with individuals (mostly children) with special needs in Montclair.”
While this is Ayla’s professional debut, she is already an experienced actress. She’s appeared in local productions of School of Rock and How to Eat Like a Child, and did an Off-Broadway turn in Madeline’s Christmas.
The Queens Theatre says this production of The Miracle Worker is focusing on how we view and relate to people with disabilities. In an interview with NY1, director Brant Russell noted, “I hope this production will cause us to re-examine the ways in which we incorporate people with disabilities into our lives.”
The Miracle Worker is at the Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Avenue South in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, May 12-21. For tickets and more information, visit queenstheatre.org.