Lindsey Settlemire, Staff Writer

The Florida Southern theater department debuted their latest musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” Feb. 18.

True to its name, the musical is about a competitive spelling bee set in a middle school gymnasium. Young, awkward, and under pressure, six adolescents compete to be named champion of the bee.

“They all have their own quirky personalities,” sophomore Martina Long said. “They all form relationships with each other and interact with the audience and spell words.”

Long plays the role of Olive Ostrovsky in the show. Just like the other spellers, Olive has a unique personality of her own.

“She’s very, very shy at first, but then starts forming relationships with Logan, and has a love interest with Barfee,” Long explains.

There are other characters, though, that make this musical stand out from the rest. The kids on stage are joined by special guest spellers chosen from members of that night’s particular audience.

According to Long, what makes the musical special is that every night could be a different show.  Because the guest spellers are different in every performance, the actors have to stay on their feet, using the art of improvisation to know how to react next.

“There are some words that are hard and some people do get the words, and if they do get the words correct then we have to go back to another song and it’s always expect the unexpected,” Long said.

In order to prepare for this impulsive element in the show, the cast plays “improv” games beforehand to sharpen their skills. Many of the actors also had an improvisation class last semester taught by director Mary T. Albright.

“She kind of evaluated us then… preparing us for the show,” Long said.

The cast on stage were very attentive and helpful to those pulled from the audience. They offered cues and led by example to show them what they were to do in the scene until the last guest speller was eliminated, and they sent them off with a musical goodbye, a shirt and a juice box.

Having audience members appear as guest spellers isn’t the only way in which the patrons get to take part in the show. Unlike many productions, the actors are fully aware that there is an audience watching them, and they take advantage of it.

During the play, actors on stage reference people in the crowd, candy is thrown out during the “snack break” for spellers, conveniently right after the intermission, and even Jesus makes an appearance blessing members of the audience before making his way up to the stage to comfort a conflicted character.

The audience reacted well to being part of the show.

“I thought it was very fun,” freshman Cassie Livingston said. “It was interactive with the audience, it was clever, and well performed.”

The positive reaction was apparent as the whole time the audience was bursting with laughter.

“We sometimes have to stop and restart the music because we can’t hear it because there is so much laughter,” Long said.

Locals and students alike came out to support the theater department and take on their own role as the spelling bee audience.

“A lot of people from the community were there as well as students, so it was nice to bring in the community as well as our own student body,” Livingston said.

The play ran Feb. 25-27 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb 28 at 2:30 p.m. in the Loca Lee Buckner Theatre.