The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to be staged March 16 to March 26.
Upon entering the Frederick L. Chacon Little Theater to watch a rehearsal for Alameda High School’s spring musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, I was overwhelmed with the exuberance of the actors rehearsing onstage. Despite it being hours after school had ended, and with hours of homework ahead, the teens kicked, sang, and sashayed, showing (to borrow from A Chorus Line) what they did for love. If everyone who ever had a bad day had a chance to see what I saw, they’d smile, shake their heads, and say to themselves, okay, I think we’re all going to be okay.
When asked, many explanations were given for the joy they created and shared. For the seniors, this will be their last show after having endured three previous years of academic and theatrical upheaval. Others said they were aware of the great tradition of musical theater at AHS and wanted to be part of the revival of that reputation. Another perspective was how this particular show, telling the story of a small town’s spelling bee, allowed them to celebrate their middle school nerdy selves (as opposed to their current status as theater nerds). And all were eager to act, sing and dance maskless in front of a live audience. One person, whose name is being withheld in order to preserve anonymity, did say there was a downside to all of the movement involved in preparing a musical. She admitted that she “smelled terrible,” but none of her castmates complained. Anneka Fagundes, AHS drama director and director of this show, helped explain the fervency by sharing that she’d invited collaboration and included her theater tech class in order to let the youth help shape the play. It sure seems to have worked.
I asked the actors to talk about the meta component of being a generation known for anxiety, playing spellers famous for being nervous wrecks when competing. Kaisia Kim said she understood the characters and their fidgety ways and worries. “Kids are always insecure,” she said. That was a mighty honest and brave thing to be reminded of.
A lot of people, myself among them, worry about what COVID, TikTok, and climate change are doing to young people. And while the upcoming performances by a cast and crew of over two dozen teenagers is not the remedy, based on what I saw and those I talked to, the show is going to be outstanding, for these young people have beautiful and resilient hearts beating inside them. May we learn from them, may their hope spread, and may you find your way to the AHS campus on March 16, 17, 18, 24 and 25 at 7 p.m., and March 26 at 2 p.m., so you can see these folks stand up and spell and sing and be ambassadors of love.
Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Gene-Kahane.