The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The musical that I have dedicated my life to for the past six months truly started off as a joke. Sierra Miliziano, my best friend and now co-director, and I sat in her heinous and mysteriously pink Bursley dorm room last April, entertaining the idea of putting on our own production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. We sent out some feelers to our friends, though the show was still theoretical, and every person we reached out to was beyond excited to hear that we were considering this show. What we realized while gathering interest was that this show has a following. So many people have found connections within this show, and it tells a story that will not only warm your heart, but break it.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee follows six children in their attempts to win The Bee. We see them struggle with parental relationships, their need for love and care, dealing with competition and loss, and finding connection in unlikely places. This hysterical coming-of-age musical, written by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, has allowed us to explore not only the stories of these children, but our own battles and experiences with mental health. I have had anxiety that, for a very long time, I passed off as ambition. I let it drive my life and push me further toward success without understanding the toll it was taking on me. I have been somewhat lucky, as I have been able to personally connect with the character of Logainne, another speller. We watch her deal with not only the weight of the parental pressure, but also how much she burdens herself. She reaches so high for her goals that each time she fails, the fall feels much harder. Working with the actress to not only tell the character’s story, but also my own, is teaching me not only how to better direct, but how to be an actor and truly channel the deepest truths of the characters into my work.
Each of the characters in this show, while not explicitly stated, all have traits that indicate that they are dealing with mental health issues. Sierra and I chose to further explore the home lives of the children, their mental states, and their journeys, specifically focusing on Olive, one of the spellers, and her personal growth. Over the course of the show, Olive realizes that she isn’t alone in dealing with her anxieties, and that everyone has their own obstacles to deal with and overcome. These are universal experiences that often make the beholder feel so alone, yet there is no reason for that. We need compassion for and from others in order to come out of our shells and truly open up.
It has been an unbelievable experience working with these actors, who have taken on the issues presented in the play with such grace and dedication. Integrating their lives and stories into the presentation has been amazing and heart wrenching to watch. I feel truly honored to be at the helm of this production and telling stories that desperately need to be told. Mental health stories in the media are often romanticized or exaggerated, and that is the exact opposite of what we are trying to do. We have done our best, with many thanks to Mentality Magazine, to make sure that, even though our show started as a joke, that we portray anxiety and other disorders in the most honest light, and we hope that you, the viewer, agree.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is being presented by 3 AM Productions, and will run December 7th at 8PM and December 8th at 1PM and 8PM in the Arthur Miller Theatre. Tickets can be purchased for $3 at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3867831. We hope to see you there!