Anna Katharine Thomas
The cast of Bryan College’s latest play is trying to figure out how to tell potential ticket buyers that their next production involves singing, dancing and comedy—as well as a spelling bee.
“It is a spelling bee, but through the process of the spelling bee you really see each of the characters’ personalities come out and the background story of each of their lives,” said senior Ashley Boyd, who plays Rona Lisa Peretti. “You learn their individual struggle and what has brought them to that bee.
While the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” may conjure up thoughts of a local spelling bee or the Scripps Howard National Bee, what sets this show apart from past shows by the Hilltop Players is the incorporation of audience participation.
Before the show begins, audience members are asked if they would like to participate in the spelling cast. After answering a few questions to make sure both the volunteer and cast members are on the same page, the audience members will then wait to be called up onstage during the performance.
“There is always a risk in [incorporating audience members], but I think if people understand that the cast has worked hard and all they need to do is be themselves up there and just spell, spell the best that they can, and not miss words on purpose but really try to do their best, that is where the humor comes in,” said Belisle.
This style of live theater keeps actors and musicians on their toes throughout the show. Since there will be new audience members to join the cast each night, the punch lines will be different, along with the whole dynamic of the show, according to Dr. Mel Wilhoit, director of musical preparation.
“Some people get up onstage and they are very shy. Some try to be exhibitionists and show off. [All] who are called up onstage are asked to participate with the stage members when they are dancing around,” said Wilhoit. “And of course they are asked to spell words.”
While “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is written in a way that provides flexibility to the lines, it also provides structural prompts for the cast to know that at certain points in the show there should be a specific number of volunteers left onstage, according to Belisle.
The desire to put on this show started in 2005 when Belisle and Wilhoit attended the show in New York City, according to Belisle.
“There was some problematic music in it, but when the royalties came out…I got a hold of the script and the authors, composers, lyricists had actually written alternate lyrics for a particular song, which made it feasible or us to do,” said Belisle.
The cast began work on the show just after Thanksgiving, but the bulk of rehearsal took place in the three weeks since students returned to campus.
“The challenging part was throwing it together in… three weeks. We had to learn the music over Christmas break by ourselves,” said Boyd. “It has been amazing how fast it has come together compared to how little time we had to practice.”
“The name of the show is misleading because it is a fun, fun musical,” said Belisle. “You will have a really good time just as a regular member of the audience. You will really enjoy the characters and you will enjoy the people who volunteer too, because they will have fun too.”
The show will run from Monday, Jan. 30, through Saturday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. for the dessert theater and 6:30 pm for the Friday dinner theater show. Tickets for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” can be purchased at the Box Office in Rudd 114, or for credit card purchases contact the Lion’s Pride bookstore at (423)-775-7271.
Tickets for the dessert theater are $8 for students, and $11 for adults. Friday’s dinner theater is $16 for students and $20 for adults.
Tags: Ashley Boyd, Audience Participation, Bernie Belisle, Bryan College, Dr. Mel Wilhoit, Hilltop Players, Lion's Pride Bookstore, musical, New York City, Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee