The Coast News Group
The cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Sean Barnett, Madeline Edwards, Scotty Herrera, Audrey Deubig, Grace Guy, Josh Bradford, (not pictured — Aquila Ewald, Lydia Schmidt, Amara Young). Courtesy photo
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Moonlight Youth Theatre alumnus directs musical comedy

VISTA — Dedicated to offering students a production stage experience, the Moonlight Youth Theatre aims to nurture creative minds. Over the weekend of March 23 at Vista’s Avocado Playhouse, the student production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” not only put on a show for audiences, but was a springboard of opportunity for aspiring students wanting to work behind the scenes.

The show was part of the Moonlight Youth Theatre’s internship program and sponsored by the Vista Education Foundation.

Leading the lively cast was Moonlight Youth Theatre alumnus and student director Jake Bradford.

“‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ is the story of six young spellers in hopes of winning it all and the equally quirky adults that lead the bee,” said Bradford, adding it was a hilarious interactive performance. “The show was better than anything we could have asked for.”

Bradford said nine cast members and a total of 28 interns helped with the production. He added that nearly most of the production team was comprised of students aged 18 and under.  

Bradford, 18, who has lived in Vista his entire life, graduated from Rancho Buena Vista High School in 2017. Now, he is a first-year theater major at UC San Diego.  

Bradford is no stranger to Moonlight Youth Theatre. He began performing with the group when he was 7. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” show was his first crack as a director.

Moonlight Youth Theatre works with students ranging in age from 7 to 18. Bradford said Moonlight Youth Theatre has hugely shaped his life.

“Many of the closest people in my life I met through MYT,” he said. “I now have the chance to work professionally as a performer with Moonlight Stage Productions, which never would have happened without my training with MYT. MYT also made me appreciate the power of education, specifically in the arts, which is why I plan to become a theater teacher.”

Bradford said Moonlight Youth Theatre is special because students have the chance to perform and learn from industry professionals in a variety of ways. Through a unique internship program, students can learn about every aspect of the theater arts, he said.

According to Fred Tracey, marketing director of Moonlight Stage Productions, Moonlight Youth Theatre produces two productions a year. One is at the AVO Playhouse and the second at the Moonlight Amphitheatre. However, due to sponsorship, Tracey said that Moonlight Youth Theatre was able to add “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” as a third production.

“MYT’s internship program offers area students training to be the next generation of theater production professionals,” Tracey said. “Young people shadow professionals in their chosen area of interest such as makeup, costumes and stage management. Rancho Buena Vista High School has several students participating in our program. Soon, Guajome Park Academy will be participating in our program as part of their International Baccalaureate program.” 

After learning from the professionals, students put their newfound knowledge to the test with a production. This internship program has been in existence since 2016.

“MYT has a wide range of educational opportunities, from beginner to advanced, which makes it easy for students to jump in, regardless of experience,” Bradford said. “I think this enables students to grow at their own rate, figuring out how to balance as much as they can.”

Bradford said it was a perfect educational opportunity to set up students for a career in theater.

He said the skills that students learn while pursuing the arts transcend into other areas of life. One aspect is building confidence when it comes to public speaking.

“The arts teach students the importance of time management,” Bradford said. “The arts teach students how to appreciate and pursue a passion. I believe any education in the arts sets up students for success in whatever path they decide to take. I think MYT has done an excellent job at showing the importance of arts education for young people and I hope the success of this program continues to touch the lives of students throughout Southern California.”