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Thursday May 26th

'Putnam County Spelling Bee' highlights audience participation

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by Andrew Jones, opens Friday March 1st at the Historic Playmakers Theater.
Buy Photos 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by Andrew Jones, opens Friday March 1st at the Historic Playmakers Theater.

Audience participation, not a complete script, will dictate a small part of each night of Company Carolina’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

“(The show) features four audience members that get to come on stage and spell actual words,” said Alex Koceja, a senior dramatic art major.


Time: 7 p.m. today – Sunday; 2 p.m. Saturday
Location: Historic Playmakers Theatre

Koceja portrays vice principal Douglas Panch, a junior high school vice principal helping to monitor the bee.

Student director Andrew Jones, a junior political science and journalism major, said he is trying to get popular campus elites to come, such as the student body president and editor of The Daily Tar Heel.

The actors also bring audience members into the show, talking to them and performing choreography with them.

The show is part rehearsed and part ad-lib.

Jones said that when he first saw the show in high school, he got to be one of the audience spellers on stage and he enjoyed it more than he originally thought.

“The plot is basically a spelling bee, and you would think, ‘Who would ever want to see that?’” he said. “It was funny, but I didn’t realize just how funny.”

“It is side-splittingly hilarious.” Koceja said.

Ashley Dean, the music director and a junior music and voice major said she was hooked from the first time she saw the show.

Dean said she worked with the actors to teach them the songs and help them sound their best.

She also works with the pit — the area where musicians play live accompaniment backstage — to make sure they are playing in unison with the actors. During the show, she keeps time and conducts.

Jones said he has worked hard to get the show to where he wants it to be.

“In terms of production value, it’s really go big or go home,” he said. “Most of the budget goes to the sets.”

Jones’ favorite number features the only set change in the musical.

The song is “The I Love You Song” where the character Olive Ostrovsky, portrayed by Emily Ruffin, has a fantasy sequence of her parents saying that they love her.

It is a rare sentimental moment of the show, Jones said.

“It’s a really big contrast because the rest of the show is off-the-wall funny.”

Olive is one of the six spelling bee contestants the show follows.

“They all have their different quirks,” Jones said.

Dean said her favorite character is Leaf, a boy from the basin who came in third at his local bee.

Koceja said his favorite moment is the song “Chip’s Lament,” where last year’s winner has to sell concessions because he was knocked out of the bee.

“He’s right in the audience’s face, and one audience member might get hit in the face with a bag of M&M’s,” Koceja said.

The characters display a variety of emotions — from hilarity to unexpected sentimentality.

“I think Spelling Bee is something very nontraditional,” Jones said.

“Most of all it will surprise people with what it is.”

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