As I write this post, I’m sitting in my room, listening to the Broadway recording of the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” on YouTube. Just over 24 hours ago Connecticut College’s student theater community, Wig & Candle, closed their production of that play in Palmer 202, a black box theater and classroom space that is often used for student productions. The production was so popular that we had to add an additional late night performance. Although I have regularly attended Wig and Candle’s performances, this was my first time actually participating in one; I played clarinet in a reduced pit band of two.
The day before I began rehearsals for “Don Giovanni” with Salt Marsh Opera, I received an email from Simon Holt, Salt Marsh’s artistic director and current conductor of the Connecticut College Orchestra, asking if I was interested in collaborating with music director Moll Brown ’18 as a member of the pit band. At first I tried to ignore the email because I felt overwhelmed about the possibility of working on another show less than two weeks after “Don Giovanni,” but soon I realized that I wanted to do this. The last production of a musical I was involved in was “Carousel” here in spring 2016, and I try to perform in one about every two years. I decided to send Moll an email about getting involved.
The preparation process for “Spelling Bee” was briefer than I would have liked. I received the music only two weeks before opening night, whereas for “Carousel” I had the music for almost 12 weeks. Early in my preparation process, while reviewing some of the music with my teacher, Kelli O’Connor, I realized that my next lesson with her would be on the day of opening night. The timeframe was so short! Beside practicing regularly, I eventually got into the habit of listening to the entire Broadway cast recording of the musical every day; this helped me gain familiarity with the music and know what to expect from all the other performers.
Performing in a pit means watching the shows I work with many times, and I learn a lot from the many run-throughs. What I appreciate about “Spelling Bee” is the ease in sympathizing with the characters and music. As a player I particularly enjoyed accompanying “The I Love You Song” sung by the character Olive Ostrovsky along with imagined versions of her mother and father toward the end of the play. The lyrical lines of my part mixed easily with the deeply passionate lyrics and singing and made this an enjoyable song to play; it was a piece where you could almost be overwhelmed by its drama.
However, the character I sympathized most with was the overachiever Marcy Park, a new student to the county from the school Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows who placed ninth in the previous year’s national spelling bee. One line from her that I found particularly entertaining came in the song “I Speak Six Languages,” where she claims “Winning is a job and I get no real enjoyment.” I appreciated this line because I feel like that’s an unhealthy and dangerous mindset for anyone to acquire. Later after intentionally misspelling “camouflage” she sings “life has such possibility, here’s where I begin.” As I reflect on the sadness of completing “Spelling Bee,” I keep being drawn back to this lyric from Marcy and realize that rather than constantly reflecting on how great a moment this show was I should go out like Marcy and seek new opportunities to create more great moments.