Preview: Paly Theatre to perform ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’


Actors run through a full dress rehearsal of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. According to senior student producer Bees Baldwin, there is substantially less rehearsal time for this show. “We have a really short production schedule [for “Spelling Bee”], but on the flip side we don’t have to build or paint a lot of sets and prepare in that way,” Baldwin said.

Olivia Ramberg-Gomez and Ethan Chen

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will debut in the Performing Arts Center black box theater, the first utilization of the black box by the Palo Alto High School Theatre Department, Sept. 26 through Sept. 29.

Unlike other productions the theater department showcases throughout the year, “Spelling Bee” stands out because it will not be held on the main Performing Arts Center stage. Instead, it will be in the theater classroom, which has been modified to be a black box theatre specifically for the show.

According to sophomore stage manager Mathew Signorello-Katz, the black box theater features a three-quarter thrust design, where three of the four sides of the room are lined with risers for the audience. 

“In the black box, it’s a lot more free-flowing,” Signorello-Katz said. “[The black box] results in a very different audience, crew, and actor dynamic.”

The setup for the show is a new learning experience for the actors, the director, and the stage crew alike. Every aspect, from technical requirements such as lighting design, to the choreography and blocking has to be rethought.

“We are kind of experiencing this really new thing, especially for actors, who’re learning how to play to multiple sides,” senior student producer Bees Baldwin said. “It’s all very new and it’s a lot of learning.”

Alyssa Bond, director and choreographer for the show, noted that the biggest difference between this show and previous productions in the PAC is the proximity between the actors and the audience.

“They [the actors] have that ability to interact directly with [the audience] and feed off of that energy in an easier way than they in a place like the PAC,” Bond said. “The black box just pares everything down a little bit, makes it a little bit more intimate, makes it a little closer.”

Another aspect that sets “Spelling Bee” apart from other Paly Theatre productions is audience participation. Before the show, actors ask random audience members if they would like to take part in the spelling bee, according to Bond.

This is the first time the theater classroom is being used for the purpose of a theater production, and the preparations are a unique experience for everyone involved in the show.

“It [the classroom] was made with the purpose of being a theater classroom, and then dance classroom,” Baldwin said. “But now that we’ve been in here for three years, it’s really cool that we actually are starting to do full-scale productions in the black box.”

Showtimes are 4 p.m. on Sept. 26, 7 p.m. on Sept. 27, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sept. 28, and 2 p.m. on Sept. 29 in the Performing Arts Center theater classroom. All tickets for the show are currently sold out, but tickets on the day of the show may become available if a ticket holder decides not to attend.

Below are some preview photos from the final rehearsal of the production.

Photos: Ethan Chen