In an interview done one day before the premiere of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical directed and produced solely by Patrick Hitschler ’13, a man with a strong belief of what theater should do, Hitschler told the backstage story from auditions to his plan after graduation.
“All questions should go to [Hitschler],” said Jill Simeral coordinator of the theater, dance, and film (TDF) department, immediately upon hearing the name Spelling Bee, recognizing Hitschler’s deep involvement with the production.
Hitschler and his team indeed took care of everything from castings and costumes to advertising and financing. When he recalled the day it suddenly came to him the show was about to be completed, a glimmer of pride and excitement shined in the eyes of the young director.
“It’s a production [and] we made it,” he said.
The production required a lot of commitment from those involved.
“I found a group of interested people and we decided that this is the thing we are going to do this semester,” Hitchler said. “We take four courses, and we’ll work on the show in our spare time.”
Hitschler needed to take care of costumes, music, and auditioning actors, and he also contributed money to the production of the show.
One of the first and most important things to accomplish was casting. While casting Hitschler paid close attention to one special characteristic in actors. Because the dramatis personae consisted mainly of young teens, Hitschler wanted the actors to let down their guards and act like children.
“How a 12-year-old kid would speak, how a 12-year-old kid would move their arms — these are the things I was looking for,” Hitschler said.
Few people who saw the show will be able to forget how audience members were invited to go on stage and take part in the creation process, a feature that, according to Hitschler, made parts of the show improvisational. At the back of the script was a list of words from which cast members could choose depending on audience participants’ interests and abilities to spell.
As a musical, Spelling Bee needed cast members who were talented at both singing and acting. In fact, Hitschler recruited mainly people with singing skills who had little experience acting; therefore singing while acting was a new experience for most of the actors.
Hitschler and Elizabeth Sullivan ’13, music director, worked closely with the actors to help them get into their characters. For Hitschler, watching amateur actors acquire more skills needed for a musical was delightful, while also commenting on the extreme talent of Sullivan.
Hitschler also said he was happy to provide such experiences of theatrical creation to students. He noted the difficulty for a non-theater major to get into a TDF department show, as well as the sheer impossibility of having that experience after their graduations.
“Many students came here to become a scientist or a doctor,” Hitschler said. “It might be their first time to be in a show. It might also be their last one.”
Hitschler also remarked on one of his favorite parts of Spelling Bee.
“I guess it is at the beginning of the second act, when Kapz, [played by Akshay Kapur ’15], sings a really funny song,” Hitschler said. “The song is called ‘My Unfortunate Erection,’ and it is all about a boy who is hitting puberty at pretty much the worst of times.”
Another song the director really enjoys is “I Love You,” sung by a girl character who blames herself for her parents’ decision to get a divorce.
“I think this might be a moment where some audience members may cry,” Hitschler said.
Interestingly enough, before Hitschler came to F&M, he wasn’t thinking about majoring in theater, not to mention directing a show all by himself. When he came to college he wanted to major in business and play soccer. However, at the end of the first year he quit soccer and joined an improvisational comedy club. After later exposure to theater, he decided he wanted to do for the rest of his college career.
However, talking about plans after graduation, the director/producer admitted that he thought about becoming an actor, but has ended up deciding he would rather become an athletics director.
“I was thinking about going to Los Angeles and becoming an actor,” Hitschler said. “But I felt that it’s not the kind of risk I want to take at this stage of my life.”
Instead, Hitschler said he would want to see what it would be like to work as a sports manager and perhaps then go to a graduate school to study directing.
For now Hitschler is happy with his acting and directing experiences at F&M. For him, the first objective of a theatrical piece is to entertain; whether the audience can learn anything from the show comes second. In fact, the production of the show started with Hitschler’s aspiration to make a show that could attract more people to a theater and enjoy themselves.
“You know those kinds of great shows, especially those on Broadway, where people may not understand them very well, but when they come out of the theater they feel that they had a good time in that two hours?” Hitschler asked. “I want my show to entertain the audience, at least for two hours before they get back to their lives.”
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