Do you remember the clammy palms, fruitlessly firing synapses and abject terror of elementary school spelling bees with fondness? Do you want to support the Desert Island Supply Co. (DISCO), a creative writing center and tutoring nonprofit in Woodlawn? If you answered yes to both of those questions, and you’ve got time to spare Wednesday night, then I’ve got some good news for you.
Spell Check, an adult spelling bee, will be held at the Bottletree tomorrow night at 9 p.m. The DISCO benefit will be subject to standard rules roughly akin to those of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, that bloodless version of The Hunger Games that occasionally fascinates America’s gambling public. Competitors will have one minute to spell their word, and will be allowed to ask for language of origin, repeated pronunciation, and other convenient stalling tactics. They will be judged — but only as spellers — by Director of Programming at DISCO Lillis Taylor, local comedienne Seama Khan and local young person Max Rykov.
“It’s a very masochistic endeavor for the spellers,” Rykov, who dreamed up the tournament, admits. “It’s absurd how much attention is given to these 10-, 11-year-old kids for something that’s really not especially important in this modern world, thanks to AutoCorrect and spell check. I also think it’s great how we expect these kids to spell words we’ve never heard of on stage, on the spot, something we adults would be terrified of doing. I thought it would be hilarious for someone to do it without an internet connection.”
Beyond the potential for amusing disaster, the tournament also has an obvious appeal to fans of showing off, and perhaps — for those among us who may have misspelled “froufrou” at a district-level spelling bee in eighth grade — a long-delayed shot at redemption.
For those not spelling, there will be a number of fanciful and exciting diversions. The night will kick off with a former professional singer belting out the alphabet song to the tune of an “embellished national anthem,” according to Rykov. The audience can vote on their favorite speller (“M-s. C-o-n-g-e-n-i-a-l-i-t-y”), enter a raffle, and submit (for a $5 fee) a word for competition. Taylor, Khan and Rykov will also offer lighthearted running commentary throughout the night.
In an intriguing, non-Scripps-approved twist, there will be three lifelines available to each speller to help make things a little more fun for the audience. Spellers may designate a surrogate speller in the audience in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? style or donate money and/or time to DISCO (the “barefaced bribery” option).
Most intriguingly, they may also fashion a new sentence using the word that the audience can vote on via a series of Arsenio Hall Show-style whoops or boos. For instance, given a word — and we’re just brainstorming here, but let’s go with froufrou — one might say: “Rashaan al-Mujahid, ever the voice of reason, said to his friend Ferdinand, ‘I know you’re into peacockin’ these days, but that outfit is entirely too froufrou.’”
The prizes are wondrous and extensive, including a sash, trophy and flowers for the winner, gift certificates to Bottega and Iron City Grill, Barons tickets, a BMA membership, Bottletree tickets and a great deal more.
The spelling bee is part of DISCO’s ongoing campaign to raise $100,000 for programming and staffing. Specifically, it will contribute toward the upcoming Banned Books Read-a-thon, a 36-hour, non-stop marathon of reading aloud books like the Harry Potter series, Fahrenheit 451 and Invisible Man. The event will be held September 21-22 and will feature a DJ, UglyBaby Improv Comedy, speaking events and a panel discussion about censorship the following week as “part of a larger discussion on freedom of expression.”