The “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was performed on the stage of Ransburg Auditorium at the University of Indianapolis on Oct. 21 and 22 at 8 p.m., Oct. 23 at 2 p.m., and Oct. 27, 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. Students from all majors came together to produce this show, and adults portrayed children.
Junior theatre major and Assistant Stage Director Stephen Cox started his career in the performing arts in eighth grade. Cox said that upon arriving at the university, he realized acting was no longer for him and directing was his calling.
This play had six main characters and to make it more realistic, extra characters from the audience were added to participate. Cox worked with the Front of House crew to find volunteers to act as contestants to participate in the spelling bee.
Cox explained that the play was written for a huge auditorium making it difficult to follow through with every aspect of that. The unknowing members of the audience were used to make the play more entertaining.
“That’s part of the reason why it’s so funny, but I think the playwright really wanted to include [that] audience volunteer to create a realistic environment for the show,” Cox said. “If there were no real people on stage and just the characters, it would seem very cartoony and unrealistic.”
According to Cox, volunteers were chosen prior to the play and briefed on what to do on stage. They are aware of what to do, but still minimally confused. This makes more comedy for the audience. Volunteers’ names were called on their path to the microphone, hilarious remarks were made about their future plans and hobbies, such as, “The following contestant was kicked out of her Girl Scout Troop for letting the boys eat her cookies.”
Senior pre-med major Tim Allen played the role of Leaf Coneybear, one of the six spelling bee contestants. Allen shared his opinion on how it feels to experience the audience’s reaction. From the audience member’s perspective, the show was only seen up-stage. Down-stage and behind the backdrop, ears were listening to know the audience’s reactions.
“Listening to the audience and getting their input on something we have been working on is exhilarating,” Allen said.
He also said the enthusiasm of the actors definitely showed through during the entire production.
Allen described Leaf Coneybear as the comic relief of the production and said the role seemed to take a lot of energy. Allen said he wanted the role of Coneybear from the start.
“The hardest role to be is the goofball. Typically, when you play a goofball, you go super-character, and it makes it seem like it’s fake or you’re putting on a show when you’re really trying to find how real that character can be,” he said.
Allen said that his favorite part of the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was the characters. He said the best way to remain in character is to try to remember your interactions with adults as a kid. Just to make sure they can be as in-character as possible, the actors use the time before to do energizers and also relax by listening to music.
Allen said that the challenge of the on-stage volunteers is that the volunteers are unpredictable and may not remember exactly what to do.
“It has been the most challenging thing that I’ve done in these four years. You never know what they’re going to do,” he said.
He said that while it may be difficult, it most certainly added to the play, and that with the limited characters, there really was not much to the play, but the audience interaction brought it to a new level.
An upcoming staged reading of the play adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” as part of the Communiversity Lecture Series will take place on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in Ransburg Theater.