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Setting the Scene

The History Behind the Spelling Bee

The Spelling Bee is a unique American tradition that has become a global phenomenon. The first official Spelling Bee was a national Spelling Bee in 1925 and was won by eleven year old Frank Neuhauser. The Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee allows fifteen year old children below eighth grade who have not previously won the bee, to compete. Each contestant is required to first win his or her school or local Spelling Bee and then the regional bee, usually sponsored by a local newspaper.

Proper spelling bee form involves hearing the word and repeating for pronunciation. The speller may then ask for the language of origin, a root word, definition or use in a sentence. Some spellers additionally have visualization techniques to help them see the word before spelling. They may write the word to themselves or picture the spelling in their mind because letters cannot be changed once spoken. Superstition is rampant: some spellers wear the same clothing for every bee the way an athlete would. In one national bee, a contestant's father paid poor people in India to chant prayers for his son's victory and pledged to feed one thousand hungry people if his son succeeded. So, no pressure.

Spelling Bee in Popular Culture

The National Spelling Bee in particular captures the American imagination. There was a period in the early 2000's during which several movies and at least one documentary on the Bee was produced, some of which were later parodied in an episode of The Simpsons. For some immigrant parents, it is the epitome of the American dream that with hard work and perseverance, victory is possible. Some parents see it as an approved form of child abuse. However, every child who succeeds in the cruel world that is competitive spelling genuinely wants to be there. They study for hours a day to be able to spell words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" off the top of their heads and to be able to determine the spelling based off an obscure language of origin.

Act I: The Morning of the Bee
A gymnasium in Putnam Valley Middle School

Act II: Later the Same Day
A gymnasium in Putnam Valley Middle School

Publication Date







The Masque


Theatre and Performance Studies


Producer's Corner

Welcome to the Masque of La Salle's production of William Finn's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. We are excited to begin the 2011-2012 season with this quirky, hilarious, and ultimately heartwarming comedy about children competing in a Spelling Bee. Throughout this contest, these children also deal with the pains of growing up and facing their own shortcomings. I hope this quirky and uplifting comedy will leave everyone laughing and smiling as we all remember our own childhood concerns.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has offered us the exciting opportunity to work with both new and returning faces. We are excited to welcome director Larry Smiglewski in his first time working with the Masque. Once again, we are also thrilled to be working with veteran musical director Michael Borton. We would like to thank both for their guidance during and passion for the show. Their enthusiasm for and dedication to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee have been truly inspiring throughout this production.

Our gratitude and appreciation go out to all the departments on campus that have a role in making this production possible: Administrative Services, University Advancement, University Communications, The Dean of Students Office, Physical Facilities, the Programming Center, and Multimedia Services. The Executive Board would especially like to thank our faculty advisor, Dawn Wanner, for her support for, pride in, and dedication to ensuring that each show runs smoothly.

Thank you for your attendance today and enjoy the show!

Mary Kate Gillespie
Producer and President

Director's Corner

"I'm Not That Smart"

There's nothing like a show full of precocious pre-teens that have a better vocabulary than you to humble this poor director. But above their intelligence and ability to make any situation socially awkward, what these kids truly remind us is what it feels like to be truly passionate about something.

This Spelling Bee has taken me back to the amazing joys and heartbreaks of being a kid ... where the littlest moments can yield the greatest results. This incredible cast has put so much effort into recreating the world of everyone's favorite awkward time in life - celebrating the joys and the defeats in a way that the entire audience will sympathize and recall fondly from their own moments of awkward youth.

The true testament to the success of this show comes from the work of this talented cast. Their ability to create these loving characters and tell this beautiful story through the gorgeous music of William Finn is my "favorite moment of the bee". Thank you for joining us, and taking the journey to Putnam County with us!

Larry Smiglewski

Rights Statement

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee