The Patriot Players at Patrick Henry Community College are putting on a show this fall explores love and acceptance, and has cast members doing a little soul searching of their own.
On the surface, “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: A Musical Comedy” is a comedic show that follows a group of pre-teens as they compete for the spelling championship of a lifetime, while also revealing funny and touching stories from their home lives. Director Devin Pendleton said he hopes audience members will walk away entertained but also enlightened about issues affecting youth.
“This show is a first for us in being able to showcase difference,” he said. “I think the show hints to the fact that we can all come together in a diverse way, which is what theatre is. We have the opportunity to forget all the issues that await us outside the theatre door and feel safe – even if it’s only for a few hours.”
Bryan Dunn, a theatre instructor at Magna Vista High School and playing the role of William Barfee, said his character takes nerdiness to a new level.
“He’s someone who has been bullied all his life and feels the only way he can control things is to bully everyone back,” he said. “But in the end, he actually allows people to be nice to him and he allows someone to change him.”
As part of the show, the community will have the chance to give a donation to Stand for the Silent, a group started in 2010 by a group of students at Oklahoma State University after hearing the story of Kirk and Laura Smalley’s son, Ty Smalley. He took his own life at 11 years old after being suspended from school for retaliating against a bully. The group’s mission is to address the issue of school bullying through education and understanding.
“Stand for the Silent speaks to secondary age school kids, which is where school was the worse for me,” Pendleton said. “It wasn’t until high school that I started to develop my way in figuring out who I wanted to be. With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, we're excited to bring awareness to this very important issue.”
Stand for the Silent reports that 60 percent of fourth through eighth graders say they are the victims of bullying. The organization asks that everyone take a pledge to respect each other and help victims of bullying. More information can be found at ww.standforthesilent.org.
“Stand for the Silent is very honored and proud to be supported by the PHCC Patriot Players and their show, ‘25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ Kirk Smalley said. “We are so appreciative of everyone for helping us to take a stand against bullying by raising awareness to it and youth suicide.”
"Spelling Bee" characters run the gambit of personality types seen in school age children, including the loner, overachiever and the dreamer. The role of Logainne S., played by Sarah Webb, is the definition of a “try-hard,” according to Webb.
“In many ways I connect with my character because I do try my hardest to do my best at everything,” she said. “I think about all the pressure I’m under as a student, trying not to crack under it and trying to please everyone. I can definitely relate.”
“Spelling Bee” also deals with characters trying to find their place in the world. Dunn said, “I think I work on finding myself every day. I look at my students and see different parts of what I was and how much I’ve grown, but I also have an understanding of how much more I have to learn.”
Brandi Collins-Burnette, a speller and part of the ensemble, said identifying with the underdog made her want to try out for “Spelling Bee.”
“I suffer from dysautonomia with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or known as POTS, so I know a little about relating to the underdog and dealing with challenges on a daily basis,” she said. “I wanted to do this show to bring a little awareness to that.”
She also added that going through middle and high school, there was a time where she didn’t know who she was as a person.
“I was the chubby kid and I had an eating disorder in high school, but being in theatre in high school and as an adult has really helped define who I am,” she said. “It’s a place of acceptance with open arms for all people. It really has given me a place to find myself.”
Jane Leizer, program director for Patriot Players, said “Spelling Bee” is a show that will make audience-goers laugh, cry, and make them think about issues that young people deal with on a daily basis.
“Let’s face it – growing up is hard,” she said. “Sometimes, kids need to talk and be recognized for the struggles they go through. Hopefully, this show will open up a dialogue among kids, parents and teachers.”
Leizer said with each Patriot Players show, there’s a new issue to tackle.
“‘Purlie’ talked about racism and love, and Shrek taught us that everyone is capable of love – even an ogre,” she said. “We have actors ranging in age from 13 to 62 in this show, and they learn a lot from each other. I’m 63 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Theatre allows you to look at all the wonderful things you can imagine and see them come to life.”
The show is rated PG-13 for some adult humor and minimal adult language. Performances run Nov. 6-8 and Nov. 13-15 at 7 p.m. in Walker Fine Arts Theatre. Tickets are $12 and available now at the PHCC Switchboard or by calling (276) 638-8777. They also will be available for purchase at the door. For additional information, visit www.patrickhenry.edu/patriotplayers.