Arts & Entertainment, Features

Stage Troupe bonds over ‘Spelling Bee’: a production to support a local nonprofit

Six college students will return to arguably the most dreaded stage of a person’s life — middle school — this weekend. But it’s for a good cause.

Boston University Stage Troupe’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will donate its revenue to the Home for Little Wanderers, an organization focused on supporting children who were abused, neglected or at risk by providing a wide range of services.

Stage Troupe’s rendition of “Spelling Bee” — a musical comedy that follows six middle schoolers vying to win the school spelling contest — will show at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena from Feb. 29 to March 2.

The production is part of Theater in Action, an annual program that donates proceeds from the production’s ticket sales directly to a charity. Theater in Action also raised funds for “Spelling Bee” and for the Home for Little Wanderers at an auction called Theater in Auction, which was held on Feb. 17.

(From left) Cast members of Stage Troupe’s production of “the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” Seven Zhang, Nicholas Formato, Ali Cook, Lanz Perez-Kudzma, Christa Campbell and Evan Laufman. The production will run from Feb. 29 to March 2 at the student theater, with proceeds going to the Home for Little Wanderers. PHOTO COURTESY OF STAGE TROUPE

The organization’s objectives align with the themes of the musical, said Mai Nguyen, the show’s director and choreographer.

“A lot of the kids in the show have hidden underlying themes of either abandonment or ridiculing or bullying or verbal abuse from their family or parents,” said Nguyen, a sophomore in the School of Hospitality Administration. “But there are a lot of heartwarming, small little moments … that kind of explain more about the kids in-depth.”

During rehearsals, the actors were challenged to tap into the minds of characters who have personalities vastly different from their own, said Seven Zhang, a freshman in the College of Arts and Science.

“I’m a relatively outgoing person, I try to be as amicable as I can with people, I want to make them comfortable,” they said. “The character that I play in the show, however, [is the] total opposite of that. So, that’s been pretty fun, to kind of do something a little different.”

The actors were not the only ones challenged while preparing for “Spelling Bee,” said Rayna Cheong, the assistant stage manager and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The creative team had to work around a lack of funding.

“Because it’s Theater in Action, we don’t have a budget,” Cheong said. “[It] has been a bit difficult but also really fun and interesting to work with the technical directing team about the creative ways we can use what we already have, such as different props or costumes.”

In addition to low funding, the cast and crew had around one month to put the production together, Nguyen said.

Despite the urgency and concern surrounding the quickened process, Stage Troupe was still able to maintain a welcoming and friendly environment, allowing the students to bond over the experience, Zhang said.

“The cast bonding and everything like that has been the most fun part,” said Nicholas Formato, a freshman in the College of Communication. “After rehearsal, we hung out and did presentations of which Spelling Bee characters would be in other productions, which was really fun.”

After all, the show was run by students, causing a deeper, more significant bond between everyone compared to productions run by faculty instead, said Evan Laufman, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“There’s a kind of a deeper sense of camaraderie, which I think comes across in the show, just because I think that we all like each other a lot, and I think that definitely ramps up the energy,” he said.

Just as the Home for Little Wanderers provides a safe and loving community for vulnerable children, Nguyen said, Stage Troupe creates a sense of belonging for students who share a passion for theater.

“Since freshman year, I found my community with Stage Troupe, and I found my home away from home,” they said. “And with Home for Little Wanderers, it’s the kids finding their second home.”

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