Saturday, January 26, 2008

Posner in Putnam County Spelling Bee

To get an early look at The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2007, tour), which begins in Toronto on Tuesday, January 29, Michael Posner joined the cast as a not-so-unsuspecting audience member in a recent show in Buffalo, New York.

"At every show," he explains, "the producers include a little audience participation, inviting three or four people to come on stage and join the Bee. My 'selection,' of course, was prearranged, and I was accompanied by three local Buffalo residents, including WKBW news anchorwoman Joanna Pasceri.

"I did not do well.

"How unwell did I do? Out on the second round.

"Ouch. Few demands are made of journalists, except the ability to spell.

"Mind you, you are not supposed to do well. If you make it past the third round, you risk interrupting the flow of the show, so they deliberately give you a word that only a genuine spelling-bee champion could be expected to handle. I knew this going in. I was fully prepared for my public humiliation, if not for the speed with which it was delivered."

Posner, who details his humiliation in an article for the Globe and Mail, was contestant #3 (pictured).

"At the theatre, before the opening curtain, the four of us were briefed by a support crew on what to do. Take the right stairs, stand behind the desk, listen to the other cast members and no funny business — no sophomoric attempts at humour, no monologues from Shakespeare. And always ask for a definition of the word and for it to be used in a sentence: These provide set-ups for jokes.

"We were all called up after the opening number and draped with contestant numbers. Then we took seats in the miniature bleachers.

"My first word was 'jihad.' 'Could you use it in a sentence, please.'

"'Khalid made sure the meat was strictly halal at the welcome-new-members jihad barbecue.'

"No problem.

"Jihad: J-i-h-a-d.

"Hey, this is a breeze. I thought.

"Joanna P. got an even easier word — 'cow.' Robert, a retired General Motors car-plant worker, got 'Mexicans.' Only one of us, Mari, a financial secretary, exited on the first round. Joanna's next word was fandango, which she spelled correctly.

"But the one they threw at me threw me: 'kinnikinnick.'

"Yes, my thoughts exactly . . .

"Definition: A preparation made from dried leaves, bark and sometimes tobacco, and smoked especially by certain native-American peoples.

"I gave it a try.

"'I don't know what you spelled,' said vice-principal Douglas Panch (James Kall), 'but that isn't correct.'

"'Goodbye, goodbye,' they serenaded me, while Mitch Mahoney (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), the comfort counsellor, gave me three bear hugs, removed my contestant number and handed me a consolation prize — a juice box (apple).

"I drove home, not exactly jubilant. I went to the dictionary. I looked up kinnikinnick. Otherwise known as bearberry. They couldn't have given me that instead?"

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2007, tour) will run at the Elgin Theatre from January 29 to February 10, in the inaugural season of Dancap Productions. If you're preparing to be a participant, practice your spelling skills on the game featured on the official website.

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