‘Adult spelling bee,’ with a twist of adult beverages, spells F-U-N

Leave your kids at home for this grown-up fundraiser to benefit the Columbia Children's Theatre

Spelling bees are a part of our national culture, from the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee to local contests within our own children’s schools. If you are an adult spelling and word afficionado, however, opportunities to prove that skill are mostly limited to Facebook games and Scrabble nights.

For the third year, however, Columbia Children’s Theatre is hosting “Columbia S-P-E-L-L-S,” a spelling bee for adults that doubles as a fundraiser for the theater program.

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The concept is very close to the actual spelling bees one may remember from school, and the format is modeled after a well-known spelling bee in Bozeman, Mont. Here locally, teams of three people each have formed and entered the competition, which consists of ‘Swarms’ of four teams pitted against each other in rounds until a winner is determined.

“It’s amazing how many grownups are ‘word people,’” said Bonnie Kelly, one of the co-chairs of the event and a board member at Columbia Children’s Theatre. “It has grown, and moved locations to accommodate the crowd and the contestants each year.”

Teams are encouraged to come up with a name, dress up in costumes or coordinated attire, and prizes are awarded not only for spelling but for team spirit.

“Last year UnicornSlaughterhouseDeathMatch beat the previous year’s champs, the Bee-Dazzlers, three women who wore beehive wigs and black dresses,” Kelly said. “They have vowed to come back this year and reclaim their crown.”

This is an adults-only event, 18 and up, due to alcohol being served and the role that plays in the competition, which is played as much for fun as it is for finding the best spellers.

“Teams are not given any words in advance, and we suggest only having one person on the team who’s a good speller,” Kelly said. “With more than that it just spoils the fun.”

Added this year is a ‘loser lottery,’ which will give one of the early-round losers a chance to draw for a spot in the finals beside the top three teams. Teams are encouraged to bring fans with them for support, and there’s a ‘Honey Pot’ for fans to put dollar bills in for each team. The team with the most money in their pot wins a People’s Choice Award.

Other awards include the overall winners’ bobblehead bee trophy that also comes with free entry for next year’s competition, and a “Wanna-Bee” medal for second place.

In keeping with the cash-bar aspect of the night, “sabotage” purchases are allowed where patrons may buy drinks for other teams or even the judges in hopes of ‘tipping’ the competition one way or another.

Judges are drawn from the local arts community, including actor and educator Eric Bultman and “Jasper” Magazine publisher Cindi Boiter. New development director for Columbia Children’s Theatre, Larry Hembree, will serve as host and emcee for the event, calling out words even he admits he can’t spell.

“People make fun of me because I got a degree in English from Clemson,” Hembree said. “I can spell the word ‘author,’ but I just can’t pronounce it properly. I’ve been practicing saying the words for the spelling bee with my cat, which might tell you how awesome I’m going to be at this.”

Hembree is hopeful that this continues to be a fun event that the theater’s supporters will enjoy, and warns to expect some shenanigans to happen during the course of this weekend’s event.

“This is a very unique way to raise money, so I hope all the teams will have fun with it,” he said. “I know that the Twitty Triplets are a team, so I can surely depend on them to create some kind of havoc.”

Columbia Spells: An Adult Spelling Bee
701 Whaley St.
7 p.m., Saturday, January 14
Spectator tickets $15
Team Registration $100

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