Audience participation was among the highlights in the production of 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at SUNY Fredonia
Audience participation has always been a key aspect of this Tony-Award winning musical comedy.
Wanting to fully embrace the interactive nature of this musical for the SUNY Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance production, which opened Oct. 21, director Jessica Hillman decided to draw the audience in right as they walked in the doors of Marvel Theatre.
"There are audience volunteers onstage for about half the show and the whole experience depends on really bringing in the entire audience and getting them to feel part of something different and bigger than the traditional theatre-going experience," Hillman explained. "I wanted the audience, from the second they walk into the lobby, to feel like they were in a school and not a theatre lobby or auditorium. It is an immersive experience and that really adds to the audience's enjoyment and overall experience."
In order to achieve this effect, the decision was made to transform the lobby of Marvel Theatre into a "gymnatorium," a room that is a cross between a gymnasium and an auditorium and serves as the setting for the musical comedy.
The successful completion of this transformation relied on the collaboration between a number of student designers who were faced with the challenge of expanding their thinking beyond the stage.
The props master, Samantha Sayers, was in charge of collecting props for the lobby that would create a middle school feel.
"I contacted the art teacher of Dunkirk Middle School, Ms. Weidner, and she worked with us to have her students draw up some pictures about anti-bullying, healthy foods, and friendship" Sayers explained.
She then reached out to her fellow theatre students asking them to donate any trophies or medals they have to be displayed in cases borrowed from the art department.
Thanks to the cooperation of many individuals, Sayers was able to successfully collect everything she needed to begin the transformation.
Audience participation continues in the theater, as volunteers are called on stage to play spelling bee competitors. Hillman said she thinks audience members will also be drawn in to the production because they can easily relate to the characters.
"The show's theme is really embracing the outcast, the 'loser' or the awkward child that is still within us all," she said.
The show follows six middle school students who, in addition to dealing with the challenges of puberty, are caught up in the fierce competition of the annual county spelling bee.
"It's not only great to see everyone's hard work pay off, but it's great to witness a fun show. The talent in this show is incredible - and not just onstage, but backstage too," said Elizabeth Voss, a BA Theatre Arts major and assistant stage manager for the production. "It's the perfect show to open the 2011-2012 Mainstage season."
Three performances of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" remain Thursday, Oct. 27; Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29. All shows are at 8 p.m. Some parents may find that not all material in this show is suitable for younger children.
Tickets are available through the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office in the modular complex in the Dods Hall parking lot across from the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501 or online at fredonia.edu/tickets.
The SUNY Fredonia Theatre and Dance production is in cooperation with the School of Music.
It is a Walter Gloor Mainstage event sponsored by Midtown Realty.