Knight Theatre takes the stage in ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’
By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
Students at St. Norbert College’s Knight Theatre group took to the stage Thursday night in their latest show — The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The show’s director, Sarah Swan, said that despite not being the most popular musical out there, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has a lot to offer.
“It’s not that well known,” she said. “But it’s grown on me a lot as director. You essentially have these spellers that are all young tweens, — like 10, 11, 12 — in the spelling bee and for various reasons it’s very important to them and they really want to do well. It’s just witty and funny and fast-paced. It’s a good time. It’s a really cute show.”
Adding to the appeal of the show, Producer and Knight Theatre President Madisyn Brisbane said, is the opportunity for the audience to be involved in the performance.
“Half the reason we picked it is because you can add audience members,” she said. “When the show starts out, [the cast] sings their opening song and then you have four members of the audience come up on stage and sit with the spellers. And it’s hilarious. It’s so much fun. In rehearsals, we’ve been playing with it and it’s awesome so we’re really excited for actual showtimes when we can have actual audience members in here with us and interacting.”
The show isn’t all comedy, though, as Emma Peterson, who plays the role of Mitch Mahoney, said the show also has some unexpected serious moments sprinkled throughout.
“This show has something for everybody,” she said. “It is one of the funniest shows I think I have ever witnessed, and yet it has so many truly deep and emotional parts that I would not have expected.”
It is in those more somber moments, Fiona Laffey, who plays the role of Logainne “Schwartzy” Schwartzandgrubenierre in the show, said the cast members’ connection to their characters become evident.
“Sarah gave us a document with just so many questions on it about, ‘What are your character’s hopes and dreams?’” Laffey said. “You get into the nitty-gritty and the really deep and dark stuff, and I think it really shows in those quieter moments of the show.”
“I really wanted to have the opportunity to explore who they thought their character was,” Swan said. “So that they could really become them. I provided a lot of questions and kind of let them describe it and open that door.”
The result? A performance that is equal parts comedic and gut-punching.
If you didn’t make it to Thursday’s show, there are still more opportunities to see the show this weekend.
Additional performance will be held Friday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be found at snc.edu/tickets.
Unlike other productions on the St. Norbert campus, Knight Theatre is a student theater organization, meaning that the executive and creative roles with the show are filled by students, not faculty.
Laffey said that being a student-led organization creates a more close-knit bond between the students involved.
“As someone who has been in both faculty-led shows and student-led shows, I’ve had so much fun doing this,” she said. “I always love doing theater studies productions here, but this feels so special because you’re with your peers, so there’s a higher level of camaraderie and the desire to really work hard.”
On this show in particular, Swan said the cast and crew really exceeded expectations.
“This group has been absolutely insane,” she said. “I have had to edit the schedule almost every day because they’d get halfway through the next day’s stuff. They learn so fast, we couldn’t keep up with it. We’d be like, ‘Well what are we supposed to do? We have them for a whole day and they already learned it.’”
Brisbane, who is currently a senior and has been involved with Knight Theatre throughout all of her four years at St. Norbert, said that this year’s group looks a little younger than past groups have, but they’re excelling nevertheless.
“I would say this year looks a little bit different,” she said. “We had some advisor changes and a lot of the people who were in it for all four years like me graduated before I did. So a lot of the upperclassmen are gone. So now we have younger underclassmen coming in, which is amazing. I love it. They’re doing such a good job and they’re such a good fit for the group. I think this year is a little bit heavy with underclassmen, but they’re all doing amazing.”
For students just getting into theater and those with years of experience under their belts alike, Brisbane said there’s always something to learn, and the group’s shared eagerness to learn is what makes it special.
“One thing I’ve been preaching to everyone is that it’s a learning experience for all of us,” she said. “Every year most of us are in a different position, whether you’re a cast member or a designer or director. You’re always learning something new which is really super interesting. We’re all super passionate about theater. That’s why we’re here.”