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July 29, 2004

A star is born

From:, MA - Jul 29, 2004

By Bill Sample - July, 29 2004

STOCKBRIDGE Justina Trova is blind, deaf and mute at least she believes she is when she is on stage in the role of Helen Keller in the Berkshire Theater Festivals production, The Miracle Worker, which opened this week

Given those constraints, how can she tell her characters story?

I feel acting is believing, responded the petite, 25-year-old Trova, a former standout in the drama department at Pittsfield High School. If you believe what you are doing, the audience will, too. I will admit its a hard role to play, the hardest of my career. To tell a story, to entertain, to become someone Im not, that is my outlet. Everyone needs an outlet and this is mine.

Trova said she was thrilled to be a part of the BTF production, which has other local roots because the play was written by Stockbridge resident William Gibson, who took part in the rehearsal process.

Its been physically challenging for me, she said. I have been bruised and sore from rehearsals, from throwing things, jumping over tables and wrestling around. Its like a dance choreography. Ive started to make an emotional connection to this character, which feels great. Its rewarding to know that I could come to understand this role to help recreate this American classic.

After graduating from Pittsfield High, Trova appeared for the first time at the BTF in the Unicorn Theatre production of Trojan Women, directed by her teacher at PHS, Ralph Hammann. She has since appeared in other festival productions, including last seasons Peter Pan. She has been an artist-in-residence at the BTF for the last two years.

Trova, whose father, Spencer Trova, is an actor and the owner of the Main Street Stage in North Adams, was bitten by the acting bug in her early high school days. Little did she know what heights of her chosen career she would attain so quickly after studying acting at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. She has been cast with acting heavyweights William Swann, Michael Hammond and Jennifer Roszell, all film, television and stage veterans, for this production.

I want to say thanks to my exceptionally supportive friends and family and special thanks to [BTF Director] Kate Maguire for believing in local talent, Trova said. I officially knew that I was destined to be an actor after I landed a part in The Curious Savage back in Pittsfield High.

Hamman, her mentor and PHS drama director lights up when he talks about Trovas natural talent.

Justina has a genuinely intuitive quality in her approach to acting, he said. She has a remarkable ability to make the marriage between her experiences and the given circumstances of the character she is playing on stage. I have seen her take what otherwise would have been a small part and turn it into a riveting experience on stage.

Trova said she has been particularly struck by The Miracle Worker.

I am so humbled by this beautiful play, and have been so lucky because the Director [Gary M. English] has such a great vision, and the cast is a wonderful team. We have created a lot of trust among the cast which sustains all of our energies. she said.

Fifty years after it was written, Gibsons play about the intense relationship between the blind, deaf and mute child Helen Keller and her dynamic teacher Annie Sullivan, is still produced frequently around the country.

As a seventh grader in a New York City middle school, Gibson received a copy of Helen Kellers book, The Story of My Life. He said he found Kellers story fascinating and was intrigued by this author, who had climbed out of the darkness into the light. After finishing high school and graduating from City College in New York, Gibson moved to the Berkshires and found a compilation of Sullivans letters while browsing through the Stockbridge Library. He later recalled that it was while reading those letters that he fell in love with Annie.

Shortly thereafter Gibson submitted a screenplay of The Miracle Worker to television producer Arthur Penn, and it soon became a national broadcast success. A Broadway production followed, then in 1962, the play was made into a major motion picture with Anne Bancroft starring as Annie and a 12-year-old Patty Duke playing Helen. Bancroft and Duke both won Oscars for their performances.

Gibson said The Miracle Worker has provided him consistent revenue over the years.

Well, it has paid a few telephone bills. He acknowledged.

The strong Berkshire connections to the BTF production have been augmented by the fact that a local sponsor has been found to fund tickets for low-and middle-income Berkshire and Columbia County families with children aged 18 and under. Berkshire Bank, a long-time sponsor of the BTF, stepped up to the plate with financial assistance that allows the festival to offer half-price, and in some cases, free tickets to residents who are interested in bringing their children to one of the 20th Centurys most outstanding American plays. [See story and play preview, InBerkshires.]

Main Stage performances of The Miracle Worker are Monday thru Saturday evenings at 8 and Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2. Tickets range in price from $35 to $62. Information: box office, 298-5576, or

© 2004