Take a trip out of Vestal and enter Putnam County this weekend at Hinman Production Company’s (HPC) production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Filled with upbeat musical numbers and scenes that break the fourth wall, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” creates an exciting, comedic environment while homing in on the awkwardness of preteen years and the pressure of competition.
The show mimics an actual spelling bee, with the twist that the characters all have a distinctive quirk to them that helps them succeed in their spelling. As each character takes their turn, techniques such as whispering in hands, writing on arms, screaming into the floor and using feet to spell out the word are all used as ploys to ensure a victorious outcome.
According to Anna Rizzotti, the director of the show and a junior majoring in math, the production includes situations that everyone can identify with but are acted out through elementary-aged children, which provides a funny and youthful perspective.
“There’s something for everyone and everyone’s kind of like been in that stage of like, ‘I’m awkward and I don’t really fit in,’” Rizzotti said. “It’s funny, and at the end of the day it’s just such a relatable concept.”
HPC is bringing something new to its production by incorporating audience participation, a tactic that is often utilized in other productions of the show. In the beginning of the show, a few audience members are called onto the stage to participate in the spelling bee and are given words to spell alongside the cast. The audience members stay on the stage for a large portion of the first act and are there until they spell their given word incorrectly. There are hundreds of words in the script that Rona Lisa Peretti and Vice Principal Panch, the characters that run the spelling bee, can choose from, and they pick different words each night depending on who the participating audience members are. The cast never knows exactly how the audience volunteers will respond, which requires the cast to improvise.
“What’s awesome about ‘Spelling Bee’ is that it has so much audience participation and half the shows run off of it,” said Tyler McHugh, the assistant music director of the show and a junior majoring in electrical engineering. “It’s literally a different show each night, which is so different than what HPC has done in the past.”
HPC is known for its smaller casts and for turning the small Hinman Commons space into a true theatrical experience. For this production, the set features posters throughout the theatre in order to create an immersive school atmosphere. All HPC productions are completely student-run, which fosters a connection between all the students involved.
“It really feels like a family with HPC,” said Ben McLauchlin, who plays William Barfée in the show and is a senior double-majoring in graphic design and environmental studies. “It’s mostly being able to tell these cool stories and doing it with people you care about and for people you care about at the University.”
Performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be held in the Hinman Commons at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Doors open 30 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $5 for students, faculty and alumni and $8 for the public, and are available at the door.
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