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Lights, Camera, Action--Theatre Department Begins New Musical

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

By Brooklyn Toney--Eagle Staff Writer

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee? That name may be unfamiliar to most Eagles, but for the Theatre Department, it’s all they’ll be focused on for the next few months, as it’s this year’s spring musical.

“This musical is really exciting because it’s not like a really super well-known musical, so it’s not something that everybody knows,” Mary Hannah Wheeler, theatre director and choreographer, said. “It was popular when it first came out, then it sort of died down and it wasn’t as popular. Now it's sort of becoming really popular again for schools to do and community theaters to do. The music is phenomenal, the harmonies, and all the songs for the show are fabulous. People like funny comedy things and that’s what the show is, so it’s exciting.”

The show was a musical comedy based on the book of the same name by Rachel Sheinkin. It had earned six Tony Awards within the first year, even though it was not on Broadway for long.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be a much different production compared to last year's rendition of Mamma Mia. Wheeler decided to keep the cast small this year, ranging from 15 to 20 kids. However, the full team is still quite large.

“I direct and choreograph,” Wheeler explained. “Then Mr. Zabloski is the technical director, Ms. Messenger is the stage manager for our musical, and then Ms. Funck helps with basically anything that we need. Then one of my friends, Brett, who is the producing artistic director at Virginia Children's Theater, is music directing this year which is exciting. Then we have all the characters, we have the dancers, and the ensemble. We have the tech crew, and then a lot of times we have additional help, like the weekend of the show we have teachers come in. They’ll help sell tickets, promote the show, sell concessions, and do the audience side of things for me. Then, we have of course people that help me with the money, with the programs, and all that stuff too. So there’s a lot of people involved.”

This year's auditions, which took place on Tuesday, January 17th and Wednesday, January 18th, brought numerous new and familiar faces to the stage.

“I look forward to learning all the music and singing all the songs backstage. The music is absolutely phenomenal and I'm so excited to sing it,” sophomore Brooklynn Sigmon said.

Sigmon was apart of last year's production of Mamma Mia and will continue acting this year.

“This year I am playing Olive Ostrovsky. When I was auditioning I was willing to receive any role. I'm super super happy with Olive. She is an amazing character,” Sigmon added.

While those performing on stage are the ones often given the most credit, no musical is made possible without a tech crew, which Ross Zabloski is in charge of.

“We are responsible for painting the backdrop, for building any smaller set pieces, bringing props, making it look as immersive as possible. Like you’re really there,” Zabloski explained. “We also are in charge of the lighting and the sound, so we have sound cues, we have music cues. We set up where the lights are going to be. There’s someone who’s in charge of the makeup and costume on the days of the show.”

Even though these team members won’t need to have dancing or acting skills, they still had to audition for their roles, and while their work doesn’t begin immediately, they’re still involved in every practice. Within the first week of practices, tech crew members would be seen reading from the same script as the performers.

“The first practice we all met together. I had all our tech friends read over the script and we kinda went through and said, ‘here’s all the props we need,’ which is kind of the visual we’re looking for,” Zabloski described. “We talk about what we want the backdrops to look like.”

In the beginning phases, the performers are left with a blank stage without a set, but the show must go on.

“We tape on the floor where the set pieces are going to be. That’s partly why we want to get them done as soon as possible, so the actors have something to work with as soon as they can,” Zabloski stated.

Opening night of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be the first week of April, with countless practices leading up to the big night.

“I look forward to seeing the kids from where they are right now to where they are when the show starts because they grow so much. Not only as people, but as actors and performers and singers and dancers. Watching the show start with basically nothing, then putting it together is my favorite thing to watch,” Wheeler concluded.

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