Putnam Rocks Swarthmore College

This past weekend, Swarthmore’s Music and Theater departments collaborated in putting on a production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Directed by Alex Torra, the award-winning musical was the first musical in Swarthmore history, setting the tempo for the year’s theatrical endeavors. As described by the departments, Putnam tells the story of “a group of adolescent kids [vying] for the title of spelling bee Champion in a hilarious, heart-warming snapshot of the terrors and pleasures of growing up. Six spellers enter; one speller leaves. At least the losers get a juice box.”

The cast of Putnam includes Omar Camps-Camrin ‘20 (Leaf Coneybear), Grace Dumdaw ‘21 (Marcy Park), Maya Kikuchi ‘20  (Olive Ostrovsky), Lee Gelpi (Mitch Mahoney), Lali Pizarro ‘20 (Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre), Josie Ross ‘21 (Rona Lisa Peretti), Collin Spangler ‘20 (Vice Principal Douglas Panch), Ziv Stern ‘20 (William Barfée), and Zachary Weiss ‘20 (Chip Tolentino).

From speaking to the cast, it becomes evident that there grew a close kinship. Pizarro tells Voices, “the show was an whirlwind. It was absolutely incredible. My third show at Swarthmore and the most widely attended one of all three. It was a blast, and the audience volunteers made it so that each show was different and funny it in its own way. The rehearsal process is incredibly intense. We went for 6 hours at a time, about 15 hours a week from the first week of school until opening night. The week of the show we rehearse close to 50 hours in total. When you spend about 15 hours a week with a cast, you become incredibly close. The cast of Spelling Bee was my family this semester and I️ wouldn’t have it any other way. Sharing the stage and going through the acting process together can be a very intimate and vulnerable thing, so we all get to know each other and appreciate each other in ways that are truly unique to theater. Today [Sunday] was our last performance and we all got emotional. Leaving behind a character and a show into which you’ve put your heart and soul can be super difficult, but it’s even harder to walk away knowing you won’t be spending so much time with the actors and directors who have become your family. Also spelling bee is just such a fun show. It’s about laughter, childhood, innocence...it’s invaluable to be able to experience those things with such a wonderful cast of people. I️ think we all felt a huge amount of pressure and pride being the theater department’s first and perhaps only (non student-run) musical, and that also brought us close together. When I️ talk about spelling bee I️ talk so much about the cast and crew because that’s what makes this show. The people and the family we created.”

Dumdaw feels similarly, writing to Voices, “this was one of the smaller casts I’ve worked with before, and I am obsessed with every single person. Everyone got close, and I looked forward to six hour long rehearsals because I knew I would be with people that I truly enjoyed. Every single person is so ridiculously talented.”

And talented they are, according to the Swarthmore students that saw the production. The show was generally well-received, especially from student volunteers. Faith Booker ‘21 recounts in writing, her experience as an audience member and a participant: “The harmonies were beautiful and the whole cast was energetic. The cast really helped to direct me and made it easy to be on stage. Plus Josie (Rona Lisa Peretti) roasted me on stage and that was hilarious.”

Overall, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was a major success on the Swarthmore College campus, as actors and audience alike look forward to theater productions (and perhaps musicals!) in the future.