Theatre and Interpretation Center kicks off 2013-14 season with ‘Spelling Bee’

Scott Brown, Reporter

Northwestern’s Theatre and Interpretation Center will kick off its 2013-14 season Friday with the opening show of Tony Award-winning musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” 

The show focuses on a competition between six young contestants to gain the title of spelling champion while dealing with the pressures of academics and adolescent life.

Much of the production is based around improvisation and audience participation, which adds an element of excitement and unpredictability to the show, Communication sophomore Charlie Oh said. Oh, who will be in the show, said part of this participation includes the chance for audience members to sign up each night before the show to be one of four “guest spellers” brought on stage to compete in the spelling bee.

“I’ve never had to improvise in a musical before,” said Communication senior Desiree Staples, another cast member. “It cures the biggest actor fear of becoming static, with four people who have never been on stage every night. I don’t know any other musical of its kind that lets the audience have so much agency.”

In addition to audience members, the show will bring in Provost Daniel Linzer on Saturday and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on Sunday as guest spellers. Other surprise spellers will appear throughout the show’s run.

“The cool thing is every night is different because we have no idea how audience members on stage will react, how comfortable they’ll be, what kind of energy they’ll bring,” said Communication junior Zoe Nadal, who will play one of the spellers. “We have to take care of them and make them feel comfortable.”

Audience involvement will spill outside of the theater, with the show’s design team attempting to create an immersive world for the audience, said Adam Goldstein (Communication ’12), the show’s director.

“We wanted the set to extend from the front door of the lobby to the back door of the theater,” Goldstein said. “From the moment you walk in, you are no longer at Northwestern.”

Goldstein came in with a specifically different vision for the show, which has usually been associated with exaggerated and stereotypical characters.

“It’s much more grounded than most interpretations,” Goldstein said. “In life we all have idiosyncrasies, and this show is just an exaggerated form of that. I wanted to isolate the realness of these people and highlight the reasons behind their idiosyncrasies.”

Goldstein also sees the show as a chance to build community. Dramaturge Bethany Hughes, an NU doctoral student, has been working to create three talkback sessions to engage the audience in post-show discussions.

The sessions will touch on themes of pressure on students, prejudice and the creation of the show and will feature guest speakers from both inside and outside the NU and Evanston communities.

“We want people to laugh and have a crazy, ridiculous time, but also to have personal moments. We ultimately really hope audiences will leave having a blast and really being touched as well,” Oh said.

The show will run from Friday until Nov. 10 in Louis Theater.

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