In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Kensington Arts Theatre, meet Dylan Echter.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you in the past year on local stages?
Dylan: Hi, I’m Dylan Echter. In the past year, you might have seen me in the ensemble of Les Miserables at KAT, which was my first show after moving to the area in 2013.
After graduating college, I took a bit of a hiatus from performing as I job-hunted and moved around a bit. Then, last Christmas, seeing a Broadway show with my family (thanks to my brother, Brandon!) really motivated me to get back on stage. About two weeks later, I auditioned for Les Mis, and the KAT family was kind enough to welcome me with open arms.
Why did you want to be part of Kensington Arts Theatre’s Spelling Bee?
I saw Spelling Bee on Broadway back in 2006 or so, and it was one of the first shows I really fell in love with. While it was probably due to my awkward, unathletic, academically driven childhood (see photo attached) (Oh, I can’t attach another photo? Okay, that’s probably for the best), I found something to relate to in each of the characters. And the music is so catchy! So it seemed almost serendipitous when KAT announced their upcoming season during the run of Les Miserables, and I saw Spelling Bee was on the docket. I knew then that it was something I wanted to be a part of.
Have you appeared in or seen other productions of Spelling Bee before and who did you play and how is this production different and unique?
I did see it performed on Broadway almost (oh man) ten years ago, and I knew I would always jump at the chance to be in it, should that opportunity ever come along. Luckily the time has come!
This production has a few things that make it different from others. For starters, the armory itself adds to the production, as it’s conceivably a place where a spelling bee could be held. And Bobby and Sam are both incredibly funny and have a very smart approach to their interpretation and timing, creating these hilarious moments and beats throughout the show that you won’t find in other productions.
What did you perform at your audition and where were you when you got the call that you had the role?
For my audition, I sang “Santa Fe” from Newsies. I heard about a week later, when I was hanging out with an awesome group of friends (shoutout to KiT). I don’t think I’ve ever jumped higher in my life than right after I got the call.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character?
In the show, I play Chip Tolentino. Chip is a little older than a lot of the other spellers, and a lot more confident. The thing that differentiates Chip from all the other characters the most though–and the way that I really relate to him–is the fact that Chip puts a ton of pressure on himself to perform perfectly, even though his parents are proud of him no matter what. A lot of the pressure on the other kids to succeed comes from external sources (to satisfy parents, to impress others, etc.), but Chip is a very driven perfectionist and builds his pressure internally. I think I was a very similar middle schooler, trying to win at competitions like this (though we had a Geography Bee at my school instead) just for the sake of winning.
How did you prepare for your role, and what were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you resolve them?
The first thing I did was make flashcards for the words I have to spell in the show–also something I haven’t really done since middle school!
Though I’d say the biggest challenge for me in this show is embodying a 13-year-old as a 25-year-old. It’s a surprisingly difficult thing to remember: how you carried yourself, walked, waved, etc. at thirteen.
To be honest, I watched a lot of Masterchef Junior, which is a really great record of how kids that age act and react in a high pressure competition.
What advice and suggestions did Bobby Libby and your Musical Director Sam Welch give you that helped you prepare for your role? Have you worked with Bobby and Sam before? And how would you describe their styles of directing and musical directing?
Well, Bobby was the one who recommended Masterchef Junior, and that was huge for me. But–in all seriousness–among all the great advice he’s given, the biggest was to have fun up there. In a show with so many variables and so many improv moments, it’s easy to tense up a little bit and focus on making sure everything is timed correctly. Therefore, Bobby likes to warm us up for each rehearsal with a game of Four Square or Musical Chairs to start us off with something fun and get us back in kid mode.
Sam’s biggest piece of advice was that it’s okay if the notes don’t all sound perfect–the characters are kids going through puberty. It’s really helped us focus more on conveying the story and what these kids are feeling rather than losing focus to the technicality of the music.
While I’ve never worked with either Bobby or Sam before, it has been a pleasure. I would describe their both of their directing styles as collaborative and flexible.They both start off with suggestions, ask for your input on how it felt, and then are willing to try other things if it’s not working. They both focus on doing what both looks and feels best, and if it doesn’t feel right, they’ll keep working to find something that does.
What is your favorite scene and song in the show that you are not in and do not sing and what is your favorite scene that you are in and favorite song that you do sing and why?
There are so many scenes and songs where my castmates are just having a blast on stage–and I love to watch them all. That said, I’ve always been very partial to “The I Love You Song,” and Emma, Theresa, and Carl really nail it. It’s my favorite song to watch from offstage each night.
Which character in the show is most like you, and why?
There are definitely parts of each of them that remind me of myself at that age. That’s what’s great about the characters in this show: they’re all such unique characters, but are all so relatable.
What do you admire most about your fellow castmates’ performances?
I really admire how much they push themselves each night. Instead of being complacent in their characters, each night we rehearse they always push themselves so much further. They build on what they’ve done, rather than repeat it. It’s a really cool thing to watch.
Why should audience goers bring their families to see Spelling Bee?
The show is bitingly funny, so if you want to laugh, this is the show for you. And the humor is surprisingly adult–not something you expect for a story about a group of awkward kids.
It’s also an extremely fun, heartwarming story with great music. There are six coming of age stories on the stage at once, so it’s hard to see this show and not leave the theater with a warm feeling.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays from February 13-March 1, 2015 at Kensington Arts Theatre- performing at Kensington Town Center, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington, MD 20895