FORTVILLE — On opening night of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Ten West Center for the Arts, it’s a sure thing the actors won’t have all their lines memorized.
That doesn’t have drama director Andrew Okerson concerned in the least, though.
In fact, that’s what will make the production — and each performance of it — unique, with the chance for moments of comedic alchemy.
“There’s a lot of audience participation,” Okerson said of the show, which is scheduled to run July 29 to 31.
Story continues below gallery
The show is a one-act musical comedy that takes place at a spelling bee in a high school gymnasium, where a half dozen spellers compete for the district crown.
During each performance, four members of the audience will be chosen (from a sign-up sheet posted in the lobby) to join the cast on stage for interactions that have not been scripted. And those volunteers will be on the stage for more than half the show.
“It requires a lot of ad-libbing and a lot of improv,” Okerson said. “A lot of things do change between each performance. Anything can happen.”
The story follows the group of pre-teen spellers as they compete in the bee while sharing stories from their home lives.
The stories in the show are often funny but sometimes poignant, Okerson said.
The funny moments are made even more so by the fact that it’s an all-adult cast acting like children, he said.
And within the comedy is a serious theme that “growing up is not the end of the world,” Okerson said. “Each character in the show has that moment or realization.”
Another idea explored in the show is that winning or losing isn’t everything.
Fortville resident Ryan England, 27, who plays speller William Barfée, said the show is shaping up to be a winning — albeit challenging — choice for the cast.
“This is my first time working in a show with this much audience participation,” said England, who estimates he’s acted in about 20 productions in his life.
But, he added, “it’s fun — in high school I did some improv.”
He said he and his fellow actors have responded well in rehearsals to the demands placed on them to ad-lib a sizeable part of the show.
“Everyone has done really well,” he said, noting that they’ve had stand-ins playing the audience volunteer roles.
One of his fellow actors is also his fiancée, Megan Smith, 24, who also has done dozens of shows in school and other civic theaters.
She said she’s warming up to improv as she gets the hang of reacting to unscripted material.
“This has been a good exercise for me, to get a little better at it,” Smith said.
But it’s not always easy.
Sometimes, she said, “the pressure makes my mind go blank.”
But through practice, and by coming up with options to use depending on the turns that happen on stage, she is feeling more confident.
“I’m coming to like it,” she said. “At first I didn’t, (but) as I’m getting more into it, I’m starting to realize why people think it’s fun.”
Local cast and crew – name (role/function):
Bradley Lowe (Chip Tolentino)
Megan Smith (Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere)
Jonathan Krouse (Leaf Coneybear)
Ryan England (William Barfée)
Emily Tritle (Olive Ostrovsky)
Leigh Anderson (Rona Lisa Perretti)
Shauna Keith (Marcy Park)
Patrick Cramer (Vice principal Panch)
Zarah Miller (Trish Mahoney)
Stephen Shilling (male understudy)
Sydera Theobald (costume designer)
Abby Morris (house manager)
MaryBeth Sargent (marketing director)
Colton Jones (sound designer)
Matthew Okerson (technical director/lighting designer)
Andrew Okerson (drama director)
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. July 29-30 and 2:30 p.m. July 31.
Ten West Center For the Arts
10 W. Church St., Fortville
The 2005 Broadway production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was nominated for six Tony Awards and won two, including Best Book.