Definition: Destiny; fate.
Sentence: Twelve years ago, Gabi saw a show that changed her life, so it felt like kismet that she would be performing it on the same stage all those years later.
In August of 2011, I sat down in the audience at the Phoenix Theatre, eagerly awaiting the opening of a production that had intrigued me for some time: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Prior to this, I had only heard about the show, but never had the opportunity to see it performed. The buzz of anticipation filled the air, and little did I know that this night would mark a turning point in my theatrical journey.Kiria Clemens, Olivia Harrison and Jasper ShermanAs the lights dimmed, I was immediately captivated by the unique charm of this musical. It was a delightful fusion of humour, wit, sarcasm, and an unapologetic attitude that I had never seen before, yet it possessed a beautiful and poignant ability to tug at the heartstrings. At that moment, I knew I had to become a part of this production in some way or another.While I had always been drawn to the stage, my journey in the world of theatre took an exciting turn after graduating from high school. It was then that I discovered the vibrant world of community theatre. The idea of joining a community of like-minded individuals who shared my passion for the performing arts, coming together a few times a week to create magic, was truly exhilarating. I began building my theatrical resume, travelling all over Melbourne in pursuit of roles and opportunities. Yet, amidst all my theatrical pursuits, one thought remained: I had to be a part of a production of The 25thAnnual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Over the years, I auditioned for several productions of the musical, only to face disappointment each time, and it seemed increasingly unlikely that my dream would ever come to fruition.Foreground- Gabi Bergman and Greg FridFast forward to April 2023, and I found myself in the midst of rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof. This marked a significant milestone for me, as it was the first production I had been a part of outside of school where I could openly express my Jewish identity. Scrolling through my Facebook feed one day, an audition notice caught my eye: Saltpillar Theatre’s upcoming production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I had previously enjoyed Saltpillar’s plays, but their venture into musicals intrigued me. I checked the dates and schedule, and it almost felt too good to be true – no scheduling conflicts, no issues with the show season dates, and a commitment to casting Jewish performers. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. With my audition material prepared, I gave it my best shot.Kiria Clemens, Olivia Harrison, Jasper Sherman and Itai FrancoA week later, I was riding a tram home from an excursion with my students when Russell, the director, called to offer me a role. But not just any role – Rona Lisa Peretti, the former spelling champion and nine-time host of the Putnam Bee. It was a part I never imagined myself playing, and the thrill was accompanied by a healthy dose of trepidation. Rehearsals commenced, and it quickly became evident that the Spelling Bee team operated like a well-oiled machine. Every member, whether cast, crew, or involved in production management, brought their A-game. We learned the entire show in under a month, and have since been running it to tweak, fix, and clean every last second.Cast rehearsing from left to right- Kiria Clemens, Olivia Harrison, Gabi Bergman, Jesse Ermer, Eliana Morris, Jasper Sherman and Itai Franco (floor)
Describing this production as a mere highlight would be an understatement. It feels like a long-awaited dream come true, and I am ecstatic to collaborate with a cast and company that genuinely valued and supported one another. Within this ensemble, every member’s contribution is cherished, and we continually motivate each other to reach our fullest potential. Our dedicated creative team, led by director Russell Fletcher, musical director Matan Franco, and choreographer Kailey Silver (who also plays Mitch Mahoney!), are instrumental in bringing this show to life. Dani Harrison and Camryn Elbaum, our enthusiastic Producer and Stage Manager, are also always ready to lend a hand.
Much like a beehive, each individual’s role is crucial in creating a sweet and unforgettable theatrical experience for the audience. As opening night approaches, I hope to share some of that sweetness with you. Please go to https://saltpillar.org.au to secure tickets now!
Gabi Bergman is a high school teacher with a love for all things theatre. She holds an Arts Degree with a Double Major in Theatre and Film/Screen Studies, and a Masters of Teaching. In her (limited) free time, Gabi is a theatre journalist and the current Deputy Editor in Chief ofAussieTheatre.com. She has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.
Production Photo Credits to Peter Haskin