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Improvisation keeps Sewickley troupe on toes in 'Spelling Bee' production

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 9:01 p.m.
Sewickley Area Theatre Company Director David Ford, left,  directs Jeff Way, left, of Sewickley, Haley Koontz Donohue, of Dormont, and Brian McMahon of Coraopolis during rehearsal for their upcoming play 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' Tuesday, March 24, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Sewickley Area Theatre Company Director David Ford, left, directs Jeff Way, left, of Sewickley, Haley Koontz Donohue, of Dormont, and Brian McMahon of Coraopolis during rehearsal for their upcoming play 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Even the actors aren't sure how the first 2015 production by Sewickley Area Theater Company will go.

The troupe will perform “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” April 9-11 and 16-18 in Quaker Valley Middle School.

The comedy features improvisation and audience participation, keeping the actors on their toes.

The Tony and Drama Desk award-winning production features six adults portraying children participating in a local spelling bee, and three moderators.

David Ford, president of the company, serves as the director and plays William Barfee, one of the spellers.

The show was chosen for its wide appeal. It features topical humor, including some local references that have been added, Ford said.

“It appeals to a wide range of people, which is what I love about it,” Ford said.

“It's not just a show geared toward a musical theater audience. It pulls everyone in.”

The show also is simple to put together, something that helps the company, which does not have a permanent location from which to stage its productions.

“It's a really easily staged show,” Ford said. “Sets are minimalistic. You could costume the show out of your bedroom closet.”

Jeff Way, who plays speller Chip Tolentino and co-founded the company with Ford, said audience participation will keep the show different.

“You never know what to expect; every day could be something different,” Way said.

Katie Trupiano, who plays speller Olive Ostrovsky, said she was drawn to the show because it is one of her favorite productions. She said the biggest challenge will be not breaking character.

“For us, it's going to be working on staying in character,” Trupiano said. “Even if they say something really silly, we can't break.”

When casting the show, Ford was looking for actors he knew could keep up with the improvisation, but still make their characters believable.

“You have to be careful about not being afraid to go over the top, but also not being buffoonish,” Ford said.

Once work is finished on the April show, preparation will begin on the company's next performance. “The Wizard of Oz” is scheduled to be performed in July.

Tom McGee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408, or tmcgee@tribweb.com.

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