TheaterCNU opens its doors this weekend

Dr. David Shuhy entails what is waiting to be explored in The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee 

~Ashley McMillan, A&E Editor~

After a whirlwind of events, and a pandemic that is still advancing, TheaterCNU is finally opening up the Diamonstein Concert Hall doors this weekend, Oct. 2-4, for their first production of the year: The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee. This musical comedy is a musical comedy created by multiple artists: with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss. Here at Christopher Newport, the show is directed by Julian Stetkevych. The show follows six socially awkward middle schools who compete in their region’s spelling bee. This musical comedy will not only offer a reminder of one’s childhood, but will also offer attendees an inside look on how we’re not too different from our past selves. Christopher Newport’s newest Director of Theater, Dr. David Shuhy, gave the Captain’s Log an inside look into what is to come for the weekend. 

“The characters start out as separate individual competitors for this competition, and through the course of their suffering and fear we get to know who they are and about their character, and at this point, we get to stop seeing them as socially awkward middle schoolers. But now, we get to see them as socially awkward middle schoolers with a background, past, family, and lack of friends.”

This production truly showcases the personalities that emerge from middle school life, and how the life of a middle schooler is so much more than what meets the eye. Those three awkward (per say) years we all endured truly showcase the beginning of what is to come. The middle schoolers not only exhibit these reminders, but also, as Dr. Shuhy states, “because it is set in a spelling bee, it really draws attention to our worse competitive nature and our better human character… Not only that, but it’s cute and affirming.” As humans, we typically strive for what’s best, though in this production, we get to notice not only the journey to be best, but also the true character underlined within each individual. 

This production has been in the works before COVID-19 made headlines in the world, therefore endless changes have been made to protect the CNU community. Most productions are exhibited in the Peebles Theatre, though for this semester, of course there have been renovations. The Peebles Theatre is now a classroom for theater students, transitioning The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee into the Diamonstein Concert Hall. Here, the production will have plenty of room for social distancing and university rules set in places to reduce the risk of spread.

Behind the creation of this production were multiple internal struggles. Dr. Shuhy states: “It has been an interesting struggle: finding places where everybody can be at the same time;  the entire rehearsal process where everyone is singing in a mask; not being able to see the entirety of an actor’s face; no interaction between actor’s like they normally do in a close and personal way.  …There have been a lot of unique challenges to this production, but a lot of people have been flexible, accommodating, and especially optimistic despite all that has come up!” 

This production will not only be a safe space for a great laugh during this troubling time, but also an opportunity for musical theater concentration students to microphone their voices on the stage, more so than the classroom. With musical direction by Colin Ruffer and choreography by Laura Lloyd, this production is up to score. Dr. Shuhy discussed this opportunity in more depth: “We were looking for a smaller musical that would better serve our students considering we have a lot of musical theater concentration students. We wanted to find something that would be the vehicle to allow more students to be showcased. The special thing about this show is that it gives each character a moment to shine.” 

Not only is this production an opportunity for musical theater concentrations to present their talent and skill, the audience will be able to bring back a mental gift from what entails in the production. “Anyone who remembers how horrible middle school life can actually be is really going to enjoy this show. Even though the show highlights the type of kid who would be in a spelling bee, though if we are honest with ourselves, we were all that kid. And some of us are still that kid.” 

Along with that struggle that we all had as middle school children, this experience will surface hardships we all had to go through – the braces, the acne, the strive to be cool, the tantrums, the glasses, the locker room, and especially the awkward clothing setups. All of these situations and concepts that were introduced to us directly after elementary school. Even though some audience members did not attend a typical middle school, and may have attended a private or intermediate institution, this transition period truly marks the beginning of the search for our unique individuality. 

Considering this production is marked only for CNU students and staff, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, tickets are still available. Those who are interested in the event are welcome to come by the Department of Theater office, anytime between the hours of noon and 4 PM, to pick up their ticket. There are only 50 spots available in the Diamonstein Concert Hall for each production day, so be sure to hurry and receive a ticket before someone else claims your spot. 

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is opening Oct. 2, and running through to Oct. 4.

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