Six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is an hilarious tale of overachievers’ angst chronicling the experience of six adolescent outsiders vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime. The show’s Tony Award winning creative team has created the unlikeliest of hit musicals about the unlikeliest of heroes: a quirky yet charming cast of outsiders for whom a spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time.
After having debuted as a director last year with the drama Death And The Maiden, Kristin Telfer has chosen something a little lighter as her debut into directing musicals with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Kristin kindly took time to chat to Glam about the show and differences in directing a musical as opposed to a non-musical.
B.G. How have you found directing a musical different to directing a straight play?
K.T. The structure of the production team is completely different. You might have the titular role of director, but the musical director and choreography team are of equal importance and make an equal contribution to what the audience will ultimately experience. It’s a collaborative process. As director, you have an overall vision and concept of what the production will be and how it will look. But there are some things that are simply not your department. The M.D. and choreographers are in charge of certain things and it’s important to avoid confusion and crossed wires. M.D. Sarah Jane Whiteley and choreographers Rachel Dow and Rebekah Stonelaitken have been very patient with me, and I think we have worked well together to create a cohesive and entertaining show.
B.G. What challenges you have faced?
K.T. The first challenge was not getting too carried away! Marie Clark originally gave me a choice between ‘Spelling Bee’ and another show that is very good and entertaining, but I knew would probably be a bit too ambitious given that I didn’t already know it intimately or have a clear vision for how I’d do it if I got a chance. As a small ensemble show in a single setting, “Spelling Bee” is actually a pretty great choice for a director who’s done straight plays but no musicals, and I knew I had a better chance of doing a good job with it.
Obviously musical theatre is totally new territory, and it was very important to me that I make it clear to the company, production team and cast that as a director I’m experienced enough, have a strong production vision, and am able to “captain the ship” and take responsibility, but also understand that there are some processes and practices I won’t know and will need to be taught, simply because I just haven’t worked this way before. Basically to prove that I may be a musical theatre noob, but I do know how to direct, I play well with others, and can be trusted!
Apart from that, it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to be the newcomer to an established group, where the production team have worked together on many shows, there’s an established way of doing things, and in this case a lot of the cast happened to have been involved in Marie Clark’s previous production ‘Jekyll & Hyde’.
B.G. What have you learnt along the way?
K.T. How a musical is produced!
B.G. What else would you like to say?
K.T. I was moderately familiar with ‘Spelling Bee’ before being invited by Marie Clark to direct it for them, but after I said yes and began the process of breaking down the libretto and developing a vision for the production, I fell in love with it. It’s a short, sharp, shiny story about discovering that life can be full of disappointment, failure and frustrated expectations, but it’s unapologetically upbeat and funny, and although the humour gets a bit black and bittersweet sometimes, it’s never nasty. Plus there’s a significant audience participation element to the show, and that’s always fun.
This production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is to be performed at The Goodwood Institute, 166 Goodwood Road, Goodwood and runs for a strictly limited season of eight shows: October 27 – 28 & November 1 – 4 at 8pm as well as a 2pm matinee on Saturday October 28 and November 4.
Ticket prices are $33 for Adults, $28 for Concession and $25 for Children (under 15 years old), except Wednesday November 1, where all tickets are only $25! (special price night). Group discounts are available by contacting the ticket secretary on 8251 3926.
Tickets are available now by contacting Marie Clark Musical Theatre Company directly on 8251 3926, by emailing [email protected], or by booking online at www.marieclark.asn.au. (please note: a surcharge applies to all online bookings).