So you think you're good with words. Try spelling endometriosis after a drink or two. Or zanzithophone. Or otolaryngology. Not so smart now, are ya, punk?
The Spilling Bee, a new monthly event at White Rabbit Cabaret, injects humor and booze into the stiff format of a Scripps-Howard-sponsored event.
"You spell for cash and prizes," says Carrie Fedor, a local actress who pitched the concept to White Rabbit after seeing a similar show in Washington D.C. "And you essentially get beer. Depending on how well you spell, you get a lot of free beer!"
Fedor leads the show in the character of Frau Heifer, a German schoolmarm with a mustache, unibrow, bosoms to her waist and a bawdy sense of humor. Callie Burk plays her sidekick, a ditzy schoolgirl who clamors to be teacher's pet but often winds up the butt of the joke. A beer server dressed in a bee costume and an emcee who provides snarky commentary on contestants and amusing but unhelpful information about the spelling words round out the cast.
Admission to The Spilling Bee costs $5, and anyone can spell after signing a waiver. Contestants chug a beer provided by a local sponsor at the start of the bee and then between each round, provided they spell their word correctly. It's like Drunk History without the hard liquor.
"We have a lot of people who come who are really serious about it — they are just phenomenal spellers and I have to work really hard to stump them," Fedor says. "Some other people come and just want to get on stage and act goofy."
Rocky Ripple resident Courtney Callahan, 21, was one of the first contestants to sign up for a recent show. She says she won a spelling bee in the fourth grade, but was relying on the beer to sustain her confidence during the Spilling Bee.
"I think I'll feel better about being on stage," said the IUPUI student, who practiced spelling words with her friend, Lauren Webb, 24, while making dinner before the show.
"She's a great speller," said Webb of Callahan. "I'm not confident sober!"
Webb got knocked out the first round, while Callahan made it through three. Fedor/Frau Heifer baffled contestants by mixing in difficult words on a Thanksgiving theme, including Native American names like Massasoit, Wampanoag and Tisquantum. In her exaggerated German accent, she teased the spellers and generated laughs from the audience with quips like: "You've got nice boobs, but you're stupid."
A bearded man sporting hipster flannel and flowing blond locks, whom Fedor called "Sexy Jesus," outspelled about 15 contestants to take home top honors, along with $50 and a gift bag.
In addition to the Bee, the White Rabbit offers myriad shows for bookish entertainment seekers. Speakeasy: A Story Tellers Show provides a platform for locals to recount their own stories on stage, a concept that will ring familiar for those who follow The Moth Radio Hour and associated events and projects. An Evening with Authors is a scripted show featuring comedians performing as authors reading from fake books.
"It's definitely not an accident, but I wouldn't say it's a strategic plan either," White Rabbit owner Debra Silveus says. "One of our goals is to bring unique entertainment here."
Part of that includes events that, like the Bee, rely heavily on audience participation, such as the Burlesque Bingo Bango Show and Let's Make a Date, a live matchmaking show modeled after The Dating Game. But those who have stage fright, don't fear — no one will drag you up to the mic!
"If you don't want to participate, you can still just come and watch the show," she adds. "You don't have to participate to enjoy it."
More interactive entertainment options at White Rabbit:
• Dec. 17, 9 p.m. and Dec. 31, 10 p.m. The Burlesque Bingo Bango Show
• Jan. 3, 10 p.m. Let's Make a Date
• Jan. 20, 9 p.m. Speakeasy: A Story Telling Show