Not your average spelling bee; MGSH alumni hit the stage with Home Base Theatre production


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After graduating from Maple Grove Senior High and moving on to college, good friends Jon Neumann and Kara Schwartz missed the energy and excitement they’d felt when performing on stage in the school’s annual musical. Never ones to miss an opportunity, the duo launched Home Base Theatre with the mission of bringing a year-round season of theatre to the Maple Grove community and indulging their shared passion for the stage.

The pair’s good friend and fellow MGSH alum, Erin McWilliams, remembers when the idea for the company was born.

"Kara and I had gone to see a production of 13 up in Morehead. When we saw it we said, ‘I miss this so much. I miss being on stage. I miss the camaraderie.’ Kara, being a super go-getter, said, ‘I’m going to make this happen in Maple Grove," McWilliams remembered.

Now in their second season, the theatre group is working hard on their next production, a Tony award winning musical comedy, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." The show opened July 11.

Neumann described the show, "It’s about these six kids, but it’s funny because they’re played by adult actors. The show directly parallels the real National Spelling Bee you see on TV. The kids are totally awkward, on the edge of puberty, and they have so much pressure on them."

Neumann also says many of the laughs come from three random audience members who agree before the show begins to participate in the spelling bee, without knowing exactly what they’re getting themselves into.

Neumann and Schwartz knew that they would be in for a lot of hard work when they started their labor of love. Schwartz, a recent graduate of Concordia University, is a full-time preschool teacher on top of her role of producer in the upcoming show.

Neumann works in graphic design and will begin his senior year at the University of Minnesota in the fall. He is also producing and acting in the play. He keeps up with his fast-paced life by zipping around on Heelys wherever he can.

And though they plan on keeping their day jobs, the pair are excited to see the theatre company growing. They have many plans in the works. They put on the musical 13 last summer and their current production is their second this year. They plan to be at a full four shows a year soon.

The non-profit, which is funded solely through ticket sales and donations, hopes to begin awarding scholarships to MGSH students in the coming years. And though they currently only cast their shows with people who have acted in a MGSH production, they are considering the possibility of opening it up to community members in the future.

"Maple Grove is such a great community, but year-round theatre is one thing it’s lacking. So we want to be the ones to do that," said Schwartz.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will run from July 11 to 21 at the Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo. For more information or for tickets, visit