Theatre Thursday

Anticipatory Anxiety in Putnam County 

I have never claimed to be a great speller. In fact, I would say I am the World’s Worst Speller. I guess, to be politically correct, I should say that I am a “creative speller.” I depend heavily on “auto-spell.” Let me tell you… computers have saved my writing bacon! For this reason, I would NEVER sign up to participate in a spelling bee.

I don’t usually suffer from stage fright. However, that gripping, stomach-pulling, time-arresting, tongue-numbing, feeling of utter blank has kept me from volunteering to stand in front of a crowd to miss-spell a word.

Stage fright is defined as a fear of failing to live up to audience expectations. Stage fright is more “anticipatory anxiety.” What if the crowd expects you to fail?


Heck, then there’s nothing to be afraid of!

Last night I had a chance to do just that, live up to my inner dweeb, confess my “creative spelling” skills, and revel in the opportunity not to do well in front of an entire theater. I wandered over to Putnam County, conveniently relocated to the Pentacle Theater to enjoy the performances of my talented friends, and found that I had been “volunteered” to be a contestant in the The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

The musical stars six very talented “kids” and four straight-from-the-audience contestants compete in a less than typical spelling bee. Would you like to try your spelling smarts in front of 60 people ? Frightening.

NOTE: Potential spoilers ahead.

Anyone daring enough can apply to compete before the show. The other 3 fortunate contestants had instructions. They were tested as to their abilities to move and encourage to truly, honestly, try their best to spell the words. Lucky ducks. As the show began, I heard my name.  Surprize!

“We like to get the spelling bee started, but a few contestants need to come to the front table to check in… Ms. Suzy Q. (names are not used to protect the innocent), Mr Running Bear, Ms. Wendy Boyack, and Ms. Anne of Green Gabels please come up and check in.”

Arg! My goofy friends. I had no idea what to expect. I walked slowly up to on stage and received my number –  lucky 13 – from the Spelling Bee teacher (my friend Heather Dunkin).

“Holy Crap!” I’m thinking, “I can’t spell!”

The guy next to me, Mr. Running Bear, gets the number 666. I move away from him. At this point I decide that the only way to survive however long I am to be on stage, I would need adopt a character and just “role” with it.

I was seated next to the obnoxious, snorting pig (my good friend Jeff Witt). He was truly gross. I scooted my chair away. He kept wiping stuff on me, picking him nose, trying to share used tissues and cotton balls, and spraying him nose spray in my general direction. I moved over again… this time attempting to share the chair with the actor next to me.

First round words were easier, naturally. I, like the rest of the cast, sat jealously when a fellow audience member was given the word “cow” to spell.

I was called to spell my first word. My heart raced. My hands were clammy. Did I mention I HATE spelling?

As you walk to the microphone, a sinking, intimidating realization hits you that every single eye on and off stage focuses on you. No worries, teacher Rona Lisa Peretti (Heather Dunkin) is ready to help fill the void as you make the longer-than-it-looks journey to the front of the stage. “Ms. Boyack happens to have a birthmark in the shape of Newt Gingrich,” she says. It makes it hard to spell when you’re laughing.


“Can you use it in a sentence?”

“How about I give you a definition first. That might help.”

Whatever! My mind was racing as if a never-before-written-on dry erase board has invaded my mind and blinded me. There is nothing there, nothing to draw from and nothing can pull me back into reality. Could I really remember how to spell this word without spell check? (BTW I just spelled it above without spell check so I’m good).

Slowly I began… “o-c… c… u-p-y.”

“That is correct.”

I do this little fist pump thing… not because I was acting but because I actually made it through the first 10 minutes of stage fright without completely humiliating myself.

I continue to combat the obnoxious behavior of the “person” (and I use that term lightly) next to me. He leans over, attempts to put an arm around me “Sorry, I was suppose to give you a clue of what to say.” He whispers.

Thanks a lot!

Before I know it I am yanked to my feet, dragged to the middle of the stage and prompted into what can only loosely be called a dance though in my case more aptly can be described as awkward spasms. At least I had fun.

I was able to make it through “Mexican.” By now I understood I need to say, “Can I have a definition please?” and “Could you used that in a sentence?’ Before attempting to spell my word.

My downfall came on the third round. I had no idea if the word they gave me was even a word. I’ve never heard it. I had to ask him to say it again and again and to even say it slower. I knew my humiliation was nearly at its end and took a stab at it. I hung my head at the sound of the bell. “Mitch” (played by my friend Jeff Presler) walked up to me with my consolation prize of a juice box. I was relieved to go back to my seat and to enjoy the show in relative anonymity.

But he squirted me!

Anyone who truly knows me knows that I don’t react well to water getting thrown at me. I grabbed the juice box and squirted him back. I soaked him!

I got a hug from the “teacher” and the “principle” and “Mitch” forced me back to my chair.

“Mitch” avoided me for the rest of the show.

At Intermission people came up to me and made comments like, “You sure looked like you were having fun.” “Was that all planned? It was so funny.” “You are so natural up there.”

No. I had no warning. I completely made that up on the spot. No one talked to me before hand. That was the real, adolescent, immature me.

I did enjoy watching my friends perform. In all, I knew 5 of the 8 actors and the director. They had a great time, as did the audience.

My favorite moment was when the gross kid changed to the father of a fellow contestant, and the teacher changes to her mother. I was completely drawn into the song. My friends all sing beautifully. However, I must say that I was most drawn to my friend Jeff’s performance. He was committed. He was transformed. I felt that he was flawless. I just kept thinking, “oh to direct him in a tragic role.” Suddenly I could see him molded to fit all kinds of roles… Archie in Secret Garden, or Todd in Sweeney Todd or the Russian in Chess. If only someone would accept my attempts to break into directing around here.

All of my friends: Chris Owens, Heather Dunkin, Jon Jones, Michelle Peterson and Jeff Witt were inspiring. My friend Robert Salberg did a fabulous job in achieving the vision that is Putnam County.

After the show my daughter and I slid all the way home through the snow storm.

It was a good evening.

Best of all, I over came my anticipatory anxiety to triumph over my fear of spelling and public humiliation.

Originally posted by Wendy Boyack on Resigning As the General Manager of the Universe on March 22, 2012.

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