Skip to content

The Depart­ment of The­atre’s final pro­duc­tion of the spring semester is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which opens Tuesday night in the Studio The­atre. We asked director Scott Edmiston, depart­ment chair and pro­fessor of the prac­tice, to tell us what’s in store for the audi­ence at this “bee-​​loved” musical comedy fea­turing North­eastern stu­dents. Hint: Lots of spelling and “an immer­sive the­ater experience.”

Syn­opsis, per­for­mance dates, and ticket infor­ma­tion
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is a Tony Award-​​winning musical comedy, depicts six anxiety-​​ridden, over­achieving ado­les­cents who vie for a highly cov­eted middle school cham­pi­onship. The play opens Tuesday night and runs for 13 per­for­mances from March 22 to April 3 in the Studio The­atre. Tickets are on sale now, and prices range from $5 for stu­dents with an NU ID to $15 for gen­eral admission.

What can the audi­ence expect? (Hint: There will be a lot of spelling.)
This will be an “immer­sive the­ater expe­ri­ence,” Edmiston explained. The seats have been replaced with school desks, so audi­ence mem­bers feel like they’re really attending a middle school spelling bee when they walk into the Studio The­atre. And did we men­tion lots of spelling? But it won’t just be the cast mem­bers. At each show, four audi­ence mem­bers will also vol­un­teer to par­tic­i­pate and com­pete. Yes, that means they’ll come up on stage and attempt to spell words. (If you want to vol­un­teer, arrive early to the show and notify the stage manager.)

The actors will also impro­vise each night in response to the audi­ence as well as to what’s hap­pening with cur­rent events. (Trans­la­tion: Expect some fun polit­ical jokes.) There will be a host of top­ical ref­er­ences to life at North­eastern as well. “The script allows itself to be adapted for dif­ferent audi­ences,” Edmiston explained, “so we think it will be a uniquely North­eastern expe­ri­ence in that way.


There’s a won­derful impro­vi­sa­tional quality to the play,” he added. “In the­ater, we like to think that the per­for­mance is dif­ferent every night. But that’s espe­cially true in Spelling Bee because we hon­estly don’t know what’s going to happen. Every per­for­mance will be new, and the shows will fea­ture people from all across the North­eastern com­mu­nity, from stu­dents to co-​​op advi­sors to deans.”

What drew you to this play?
For starters, Edmiston said, “it’s prob­ably the fun­niest musical I’ve ever directed.” He said the play cel­e­brates lan­guage, and the stu­dent cast has a spe­cial gift for playing comedy. “There hasn’t been a rehearsal where at some point they haven’t strug­gled to stay in char­acter and not crack up at each other,” he said.

Edmiston said he’s also drawn to sto­ries about people out­side of the mainstream—outcasts, mis­fits, eccentrics. “I find those sto­ries very com­pelling,” he said, “and I think the­ater tells those sto­ries very well.” Spelling Bee, he said, is about quirky kids who don’t quite fit in, but spelling is one thing they all do very well. “The play allows us to laugh about their eccen­tric­i­ties but also develop an affec­tion for these char­ac­ters,” he said. “The dif­fi­cul­ties of ado­les­cence are some­thing we can all iden­tify with, par­tic­u­larly col­lege students.”

Edmiston was also attracted to Spelling Bee for one thing it is not: a spec­tacle. “We tend to think of musi­cals as big and splashy, and Spelling Bee isn’t so much about the size of the pro­duc­tion as it is about the dis­tinct and endearing qual­i­ties of the misfit char­ac­ters. It’s been won­derful to work with stu­dent actors on a musical in which they can dig deeply into the char­ac­ters and make them uniquely their own.”

Photo credit: Non Kuramoto, AMD’19

This story, by Greg St. Martin, originally appeared in news@Northeastern.