227bcd50 3cd8 4641 866c e9851ebff6f9Next weekend, Simpson College will present their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. While the public will enjoy this offering on Friday through Sunday like other shows in their season, an additional performance of Spelling Bee will take place on Monday afternoon. This will form the centerpiece of Simpson’s 21st Annual High School Theatre Festival.

The Festival has long been part of Simpson’s outreach, both for the Theatre Department in particular and the college as a whole. Visiting students will get to see much of what Simpson College has to offer and, in addition, learn a tremendous amount about theatre through over a dozen workshops offered by the faculty and students there.


192e3341 9ec7 4690 87b1 ce8de65d521fJennifer Nostrala is the Theatre Chair at Simpson College and has been part of the event since the inception of the Festival. “My colleague at the time, Tom Woldt, was the one who really got the ball rolling on this event. I do recall he and I sitting on a bench on campus talking about how an event like this would be a great opportunity to get a high school campus to see a show and also interact with our students. And it took off from there.”


And “took off” is an understatement. While there have been some years where attendance was slightly less than 100 students, there have been other years with over 400 eager and interested high schoolers visiting Simpson and learning about theatre. (One year a small school made it their senior trip!). These days the Festival attracts between 250-300 students and their teachers each year for a day filled with theatre-related learning and fun.


“While there are subtle changes each year,” says Nostrala, “the format has generally stayed the same: opening session, workshops (students can choose from workshops on improv to stage make-up to playwrighting and directing), lunch on campus, and a show with a talk back after. We do try to vary some of [the workshops] depending on the show, but workshops like musical theatre are popular whether we are doing a musical or not!”


During the school year, different students at Simpson are involved with specific productions, so not everyone is active in every show. But when it comes to the Festival, it’s time for the entire department, faculty and students alike, to jump in. “With an event like this, it really is all hands on deck.” Nostrala informs us. 


E398f2ca 2d86 41c1 b4dc 32667db29f44“Most of the workshops are taught by students—though faculty also do lead workshops. We think the leading of the workshops is an essential part of our students’ education. Ann Woldt (Assistant Professor at Simpson) works with the students on how to develop an outline/plan for a workshop, specifically addressing how to lead strong workshops. Just last week she held a meeting with all of our students and went over things that make a successful workshop.”


“So while the event is an important experience for the high school students, it is also an important curricular experience for our current students. I think our students really appreciate sharing what they have created with an audience who appreciates the value of theatre the same way they do.”


To Bee or Not to Bee

764c904f b28c 4f75 bf46 46ac271828b4One of the Simpson Theatre students performing in Spelling Bee this year is Emily Carey. Along with her collegiate theatre performing career, she’s been heavily involved in backstage work as well, and has been the Marketing Undergraduate Assistant for the past 2 years. So while juggling many different jobs and roles is something she’s gotten used to, the Festival holds a special place for her.


“The High School Theatre Festival is Theatre Simpson’s biggest recruiting tool,” says Carey. “We have many current theatre students who attended the high school theatre festival when they were in high school, and would never known Simpson without it. We like to get the students involved with workshops that they can select depending on their interests. The high school students can meet and connect with college students who love theatre. That’s the biggest connection that everyone who attends the festival carries: we al have the same love for the theatre and the arts.”


“My favorite part about the Festival is observing the high school students watching the performance. There’s a whole new energy that comes from it. You’re sitting or performing in a room with 300+ theatre kids who laugh, understand references and jokes, and sometimes even know or have performed the show in the past. It’s one of my favorite events of the year.”


Of course, the centerpiece is the play performed each year, both for the special student performance and for the three shows that are available for the public. The Simpson Theatre community has been working overtime to make sure that everything is ready for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, dotting i’s and crossing t’s, so to speak. In addition to all her work on the Festival events, she’s got a featured role in the show as one of the principal characters. 


Putnam is such a fun show! I can’t wait to share it with everyone. It’s full of catchy songs, heartwarming moments, tremendously talented actors, and it’s a show all ages will love!”


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs from March 16 through 18 in the Pote Theatre at the Blank Performing Arts Center in Indianola. Tickets are available through the Simpson College box office or by calling 515-961-1601.

Simpson College High School Theatre Festival Jennifer Nostrala 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Emily Carey