The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Theatre presents “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

3 min read

The show follows the struggles and interactions of students at a county spelling bee. UMW Theatre


Life Editor

UMW Theatre is performing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical that follows the turmoil of students and teachers participating in their county spelling bee. The show, directed by Gregg Stull, emphasizes the pressure that parents put on their children to succeed. 

“It talks about a lot of challenging issues that most everyone goes through at some point in their life in a way that makes it feel less intimidating,” said senior theatre major and stage manager Erin Schoff.

I attended the show on April 2 and was astonished by the actors’ dedication to their characters. Something that differentiates this show from others is the use of the audience as onstage volunteers. Even with the audience members on stage, the actors remained perfectly in character, engaging with them and directing them during the performance. This aspect added an extra level of intimacy between the audience and the performers and really brings the two together.  

I, myself, got to be one of the spellers. Turns out, I can’t spell petrichor, but the experience was memorable nonetheless.

Senior theatre major Riley Salazar, who plays Olive Ostrovsky, discussed the level of improvisation that had to go into the show. 

“Bringing the audience volunteers on stage adds an element of the unexpected that is so cool and fun, and it keeps us all on our toes,” said Salazar. “The show is different every single night and I really enjoy that.” 

Many characters brought their personal experiences to the stage, making for a relatable cast of characters. While it was not a requirement for the actors to have been in a spelling bee before, a few actors had participated in one.

“I participated in a few [spelling bees] when I was in elementary school,” said Salazar. “My mom actually brought a trophy from one when she came to see the show.” 

The show also features alumna Taryn Snyder, a 2015 graduate from the UMW theatre program. She described her character, Rona Lisa Peretti, who is a school teacher helping run the spelling bee, as “a reminder that joy prevails and that every moment should be relished. She loves the Bee, and, most importantly, she loves the kids in the Bee. She sees the good in each of them, appreciates what makes them unique and celebrates each of their victories.” 

The show faced a couple of challenges during its development. Since they started rehearsing in November, the original timeline had the show going up in February, but COVID-19 caused them to move the date. 

“Due to the threat of the omicron variant, our department made the challenging decision to postpone the show until April with the hope that the world would be a safer place for our work,” said Snyder.

Now that the restrictions and mandates are being lifted, the show is able to run without such an intense fear of spreading COVID-19.  

“Now, here we are in April, mandates have been lifted, things are feeling a bit more normal and we’re able to have performances for audiences and bring a few on stage to join in on the fun,” said Snyder. 

The show will continue April 7-9 at 7:30 p.m., April 10 and 16 at 2 p.m. and April 14-16 at 7:30 p.m. in Klein Theater. Students can reserve tickets ahead of time on the UMW Theatre website.