The 25th Annual Putnam Co. Spelling Bee is a musical comedy that focuses upon students in the midst of puberty who are coping with the pressures of being in high school and who ultimately learn that winning isn’t always everything.
The Moncton High’s show is being directed by Michael McArdle, a name familiar to both MHS alumni and the theatre community. McArdle has been a driving force behind high school theatre productions in Metro Moncton for the past 25 years.
McArdle’s passion for the theatre began when he was a high school student. At the suggestion of some friends in his homeroom, McArdle auditioned for a part in a musical that was being cast and ultimately fell in love with performing.
“I always loved watching theatre,” McArdle says. “I remember going to watch various productions at Harrison Trimble and Moncton High and liking it so much. It ended up really helping to develop my passion.”
Since 1987, McArdle has done one to two big scale productions each year. The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is a relatively simple show compared to past years but he felt that after the unexpected closure of Moncton High School last year, going “small” was a wise choice.
“This year is all about rebuilding for us,” he says. “Last year, we graduated a good number of experienced drama students and chose to get our feet wet with a production that was not too technically over-challenging and that could help everyone get back on their feet. I still wanted to ensure we all had fun but also wanted to be sure that we had a show that has a small cast that could also be put on relatively easily and quickly.”
Saying ‘Spelling Bee’ boasts one of the most minimalist sets he has worked with, McArdle likens the upcoming MHS production to a niche show like Forever Plaid.
“The set is very simple in that it is essentially a school auditorium that is set up for a spelling bee. However, the show will still have little bits of glamour and lighting effects to appeal to the aficionados,” McArdle says. “It is a high comedy, very slapstick kind of production; it is also very real and normal in the sense that it is done in actual time and is not based in fantasy. There are all kinds of quirky twists to it.”
McArdle says that approximately half of the group performing in the Putnam Spelling Bee has not previously taken part in theatre work before. He proudly notes that those cast members with prior experience have been mentoring those requiring assistance to find their way.
“Everyone gels extremely well as a group. There is a lot of mentoring that has been taking place, ensuring those new to the stage are learning the ropes as they should. I am so used to doing these productions, I don’t tend to fill those new to the scene in on the codes and rules of performing,” he laughs.
“The show in itself is a great one though and one that I feel is filled with surprises. The outcome is not one that you would necessarily expect,however the idea behind the production is more to say that everyone is a winner and that everyone has winning moments. The characters in the show come from diverse backgrounds and are dealing with their own issues. It is as though each of the characters is fighting to win but have actually already won in a different way.”
Saying that a portion of the production will offer select audience members the chance to get up on stage to take part in the production, McArdle also says he hopes to have some special “guest spellers” take part in the production, refusing to elaborate on the possibility of the identities of those guests.
McArdle notes that the upcoming performances of The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee are bound to be bittersweet in some ways. With Moncton High School slated to move to a new modern facility in 2013, the upcoming production will be among the final plays that will take the stage at the school.
McArdle says that at present, there are no plans to incorporate an auditorium and stage into the new Moncton High School.
“There is 75 years of history on that stage so these performances will be poignant to say the least,” he says. “I think back to so many of my students who have gone on to study professionally that have graced the stage at Moncton High. I feel that we have consistently had one of the strongest theatre programs in the province and the fact that Moncton High was chosen as one of 10 schools from across Canada to participate in the 2010 Fringe Festival in Scotland supports that.
“To think of going from a program of this magnitude to nothing is a little discouraging and sad.”
Article published in December 7, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript