Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Fierce: Musical Theatre presents “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

Dominique Martinez-Powell
Cast of Spelling Bee practices a scene from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Musical on stage Oct. 25, 2023 at the Old Baptist Foundation Building in Carbondale, Illinois.

The cast and crew involved in Fierce: Musical Theatre’s fall production have been working tirelessly to prepare for their upcoming show with vocal exercises, prop testing and lots of laughs.

This year, the RSO will be performing its production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” to audiences on Nov. 3-4 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. at Old Baptist Foundation.

This musical follows a group of students who are competing to become a spelling bee champion and to win a spot in the national spelling bee. Each of the six spellers share stories of their home lives and the pressure they feel to live up to expectations, while uniting in their passion for spelling. Critics have noted the story’s wit and humor can entertain a broad audience of people.


Gillian Corpuz, one of the directors and a choreographer for the show, said that the goal is to bring the story and musical theater in general to the SIU student community.

“Our RSO is very focused on allowing people who are not theater majors to perform and experience theater,” Corpuz said. “So we’re really excited to be able to share this really funny story with SIU.”

They want to be able to connect people who may not typically be able to perform, and develop bonds that will last longer than the show’s run. To do this, they spend hours getting to know each other, rehearsing and pushing each other to refine their skills.

“Whenever you’re at this part in the rehearsal process, it’s always about building your chemistry and making sure that all of the different pieces that you’ve been rehearsing are coming together,” Corpuz said. “Meshing them all together to create one cohesive piece of theater. One cohesive show.”

While some members of the cast had little experience with the show before auditioning, others already had some prior introduction and fondness for the material.

Cast member Van Leonard said, “I’ve loved the show, and the character that I’m playing right now has been a dream role for me for a while. But even then, I got my script and I still had so much work to do for my character. I had to figure out his backstory, and figure out what motivates him and why he responds the way he does to other people.”

Leonard will portray Leaf Coneybear, who is homeschooled and comes from a large family. He has an emotional song about his insecurities and easily distracted nature which provides a backstory regarding the importance of this spelling bee to him.


“You have to get into a very specific headspace to sing such sad sad words, but with a happy smile. So for me especially, even though I’ve loved this character for a long time, I had to do a lot of soul searching to find my character,” Leonard said.

Behind the scenes of the production, members of the RSO work to bring together the technical elements of the show, such as the props, costumes, sets, lighting and sound.

Luke Shauster plays a large role in these elements as the production’s technical director, helping with lighting and set design. Both directors also step in to fill the role of costume and prop design.

“We have to source a lot of our own technical people just because we’re a small [organization]. We don’t have the same resources as the department.” Corpuz said.

Each person involved does their best to bring all of the elements together both on stage and off in order to create a show that hopefully keeps the audience amused.

Actress Kenzie Losinski plays Olive, a shy newcomer to the spelling bee.

“I think it’s just a really fun show. It brings a lot of different types of people together, and I think it’s fun to see that on stage,” Losinski said.

Humor and lighthearted themes are the main appeal of this particular show.

Corpuz said, “It’s definitely a little bit of a raunchy comedy, but it is also very heart warming and very much an underdog kind of story.”

They make sure to keep their audience in mind as well when planning and preparing for their shows.

“I think this show is one that can bring joy to the community,” Leonard said. “And you can really fit it to whatever community you’re bringing it to. So if we were angling it more towards children, you could take some of that raunchiness out of it, but we’re angling it more towards college people who are gonna like the humor.”

Hayden Hotchkiss plays the role of Chip Tolentino. Chip was the winner of the 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee who went on to nationals, but did not place in the top ten.

Hotchkiss feels that performing for the SIU community is very important.

“[I enjoy] working with everyone throughout the whole process, but also the show is very interactive with the audience,” Hotchkiss said. “I think that’s one of the most special parts about the show is getting to go out into the audience and talk directly to people and see their faces…and see how they’re reacting and playing back with us a little bit.”

This element provides a unique element to theater that is not often seen. Often the audience is left out of performances and is there simply as a witness. This show switches the roles, encouraging and requiring audience participation and reaction.

Corpuz said, “Since we do have a lot of improvisation and a lot of interaction with the audience, there’s an aspect of bringing them physically into the story as well through our storytelling.”

For updates and more information regarding the show, check out Fierce: Musical Theatre’s Facebook or Instagram @thatisfierce.


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