SALT LAKE CITY — For some, it’s where young dreams are fulfilled. For others, it’s where a lifetime of stage fright gets solidified.
Childhood spelling bees — one of America’s longtime educational traditions — remains a make-or-break proving ground for its young spellers. At downtown’s Urban Lounge on Thursday, Feb. 8, however, there’s a shot at redemption and closure.
Or, perhaps, for even greater stage fright.
The venue will host “Buzzword: An Adult Spelling Bee,” a new event created by the Salt Lake City Library. Participants submit their application online with an accompanying six-word bio, and 25 entrants are invited onstage to compete.
According to Bryton Sampson, one of the library’s communications specialists, “It’s sort of like a game show without the cameras.”
Obviously, Thursday’s bee isn’t your average library event. Libraries have become a place for children to gain literacy skills. According to Tommy Hamby, the library’s adult services coordinator and Buzzword host, library involvement drops off dramatically once people graduate from high school. The Salt Lake City Library has been seeking new ways to engage adults.
Hamby and his co-worker, Teen Services coordinator Christina Walsh, hosted their first Buzzword event last February and another one this past summer, with each show drawing approximately 75 people. They got the idea from another library that hosted an adult spelling bee. Hamby said he and Walsh try to create a fun environment, “but there’s a competitive spirit to it that we try to honor and take seriously to some degree. And we also poke fun at that seriousness, too.”
“It’s on stage, with the hot lights and the audience (watching),” Walsh added. “We’ve got some people that get very, very nervous, and then some people that are cracking jokes, shouting out to their friends and being as confident as they can be.”
Hamby and Walsh learn a little bit more with each spelling bee. At their first bee, Walsh said, the spelling words were too difficult. Half of the contestants got eliminated in the first round.1 comment on this story
“So we had to make it a little easier,” she said. “It’s so hard for us to gauge — I’m not an especially good speller, so I think everything is too hard, and Tommy thinks everything is too easy.”
Thursday’s event will include some new features. Among them is a round where contestants spell words in reverse.
“Under the hot lights, in front of that audience and with my disarming charm?” Hamby said. “That’s going to be pretty tricky.”
If you go …
What: “Buzzword: An Adult Spelling Bee”
When: Thursday, Feb. 8, 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East
How much: Free (ages 21 and older permitted)