Shayna Amato: Getting Back in Touch with Childhood
An internationally-traveled music production is coming to North Haven audiences through Spotlight Stage Company. One of its leading actresses, Shayna Amato, couldn’t be more excited to participate in one of her favorite musicals and reconnect with her childhood.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee tells the story of six adolescent spelling bee contestants who open up to the crowd about their personal life stories as they compete for victory. They may even spell words that may not even exist.
Her part in the interactive The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be her first performance with Spotlight and is a particularly exciting one for her.
“Spelling Bee is one of my favorite musicals. So it’s one that I really have always wanted to do,” she says. “I think all of the characters are exciting, but the one that I’ve always wanted to play is actually Logainne [Schwartzandgrubenire].”
The character of Logainne speaks with a “pronounced lisp,” which Shayna says she had when she was younger but had to repress. As part of her preparation for the show, she needed to tap back into her past to portray Logainne accurately.
“I did a lot of speaking around the house to make sure that it sounded natural, and I went through the lisp again,” says Shayna.
She added that her lisps do reveal themselves sometimes when she is not consciously trying to speak without it, but that’s exactly what her “actor brain” needed for her to do for her character.
“I know when you’re a kid, and you go through all of that speech therapy stuff, you’re basically training your mind to correct yourself at the same time as you’re speaking. And so my mind is going, ‘don’t do it that way.’ And then my actor brain is going, ‘no, no, it’s okay.’ So I’m finding myself again like this… It’s just kind of coming out again. It’s weird but also kind of freeing I guess, too.”
The surname of Logainne, also called “Schwartzy,” is a combination of ‘Schwartz’ and ‘Grubeniere,’ the surnames of her two gay fathers. Logainne’s parents play a significant role for the character.
“She, as a character, has a first mother that she knows about, but hasn’t met yet, that her fathers have adopted her through,” Shayna says. “If you grow up adopted, or you only grow up with single parents, or your parents are different in some way, I think it’s a challenge, always. And that’s going to be part of Schwartzy’s journey throughout the whole play.”
Shayna says some of the key questions for Logainne’s personhood then are, “What does it mean that she doesn’t have a mother,” “What does it mean that she has two gay fathers,” and “What does it mean that she’s adopted?”
One of the fixtures of the musical is its improvisational component. Four guest speller roles are offered as an invitation to audience members. If their name is drawn, they are invited to come on stage and sit next to the six central characters. They will then become part of the competition.
The component is one of Shayna’s favorite parts of the musical.
“That’s part of the comedy, but also, the words that are chosen for the spellers are improved by one of the adults in the play, Panch, who is a little bitter about having to participate in this elementary school spelling bee situation.”
The character of Panch proceeds to make up some ridiculous non-words or definitions that are meant to confuse and conjure laughter from the audience. The unpredictable path the show will take at that point to its final point is another favorite aspect of Shayna’s.
“There’s a lot of moments that are ‘scripted improv,’ meaning there’s a point to where you’re trying to go, but you can say anything to get there. But you feel like it’s unpredictable because the audience doesn’t know what’s going on. The guest speller doesn’t know what’s going on, and only the actors on stage do. And so it feels natural…so it gives you that live comedy perspective.”
For the audiences attending the musical, Shayna says they should “expect to get back in touch with your inner child,” just as she has with her role as Logainne.
“I think we explore a lot of the awkwardness behind being a kid, and certainly being up on stage, expectations of both your parents, your soul, your teachers, you kind of just see what those pressures do to children,” Shayna says. “Some of them push through and learn a lesson, and sometimes that lesson is hard. And sometimes, that lesson is a character-developing moment. Suddenly, you’re at a crossroads, and you end up being this amazing adult human who takes responsibility for themselves, or you end up going down this bitter development where you end up being maybe not a very nice person. I think you can see there’s a lot of interest in adult characters throughout the show of seeing themselves in these children.”
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be staged from Thursday, May 4 to Saturday, May 6, at the High Lane Club, 40 High Street, North Haven. For more information or tickets, visit www.spotlightstagecompany.com/spotlight-events.