A whole new meaning to theater

Audience interaction and witty comedy makes The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee a unique experience for Minnehaha’s actors and audience

“It surprised me when Freeman decided to do the show,” said senior Kevin Dustrude prior to the opening. “I didn’t think it was going to happen. There are a lot of things you won’t expect. Like ‘Minnehaha won’t do that…’ Yes, we will.”

While Minnehaha’s actors have taken on comedy before, the fall musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is unlike any other show to grace the Hognander chapel before. The witty dialogue and musical numbers pull together multiple storylines showcasing the nine lead roles of Rona, Panch, Mahoney, Olive, Barfée, Schwartzy, Marcy, Leaf and Chip. These many characters were presented to the Minnehaha public last week from Oct. 23-25.

This comedic tale tells the stories of the six spellers who found themselves on stage for the county spelling bee finals. Through flashbacks as well as their presence at the bee, the audience came to know the spellers as they were eliminated one by one, each of them learning more about themselves along the way.

Director Nicholas Freeman decided on the show after seeing it with art teacher Nate Stromberg as it was performed at a school last winter, appreciating it primarily for the comedic genius and the large number of featured roles

“I took a look at the pool of actors that I have and this years senior class is huge as far as theater students,” said Freeman. “I have a large amount of extremely talented theatre students and I wanted to find a show that showcased each one of them individually. They thought we were going to do a different show that had two leads and then maybe a supporting role or two and that was it. I knew that it wouldnt service the senior class to do a show like that.”

With the many featured roles, each actor has a new challenge in developing their character.

“The unique flavor to this show is that each person up there, each character in this show has to be a real character,” said Freeman. How do we bring ourselves into these roles to make it a real person? It can’t all be a caricature because then the humor gets lost. We have to find the unique reality and the truth in that character to be able to laugh at whatever comes out of his mouth.”

This means an involved process of character development.

“Every show requires a decent amount of character work,” said senior Cat Potts, “but for this one especially you have to really know your character’s motivation and really be aware of their past and their goals and how they interact with other characters. It adds for a lot more diversity in the show. A lot of times you see a show characterized in a very specific way. All the production down to the costumes and the props look exactly the same, but with so many different main characters and actors in those roles, there are more ways to develop a show.”

Even theatre new comer senior Justin Nasifoglu has recognized these challenges.

“It’s been difficult,” said Nasifoglu. “Once you understand what’s going through your character’s mind its somewhat easy to show that but I think the really hard part is getting to understand what your character is saying and expressing their emotions instead of just going up there and winging it. I used to think my character was a jerk. Turns out he’s just a really outgoing dude who’s a little competitive.”

Another unique aspect to the show is the consistent use of audience interaction.

“It’s really cool that there’s so much audience interaction,” said senior Emma Tyler. “With Seussical we were in the audience but in this the audience is in the show.”

And as the audience took part in the show, it added something new to the stage.

“It brings a whole new meaning to the word theater,” said Freeman. “You can’t have theatre without an audience. It simply doesn’t exist. If you do a play without an audience, its called a rehearsal. So that audience participation is crucial to this show.”

It takes a strong cast to execute complicated audience involvement and senior Maggie Chamberlain is excited to be a part of a show with such a strong and dedicated cast.

“People are really easy to work with,” said Chamberlain. “Everybody is serious about what they do, but serious about having a good time as well.”

The cast of actors worked hard, putting their hearts into the production.

“All of the actors have honed their tools as actors to bring the show to life,” said Freeman, “and the only way to do that is to tap into the talent that God has given each one of us. The show is unique in that I have a strong cast that is serving others by using their God given talents.”

And while the shows didn’t always go as planned, the result was still great.

“I hit a person in the back of the head with a tennis ball and I ripped my [microphone] off on stage,” said senior Hazen Mayo, “so nothing goes perfectly. But you forge through it. I enjoyed every moment of it.”


View photos from in the interactive picture below. All photos by Maddie Binning.


About Maddie Binning

Maddie Binning is a senior at Minnehaha Academy and Editor in Chief of the Talon Newspaper. Maddie has worked on the Talon for four years and hopes to study journalism in university. When she isn't working on the paper, Maddie is both a freelance photographer and a photographer at Lifetouch Portrait Studios. She also has a passion for reading, music and traveling.

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