Cappies herald the excellence of area's high school theater

Awards go to students from Howard and Baltimore counties


Laura Tschirgi of Ellicott City said she remembers lots of screaming when her name was announced from the stage of the Hippodrome as the winner of the Cappie award for lead actress in a musical.

The Mount Hebron High School sophomore recalled "hearing all the people being so supportive. ... I was walking down the aisle, and I thought I was going to fall on my face. It was just incredible."

Tschirgi's heady experience - and 36 other award presentations interspersed with musical numbers and dramatic scenes from high school productions - was the Cappies way of celebrating a year's worth of high school theater Sunday night.

The Cappies of Baltimore (Critics and Awards Program) began in 2003 and is one of 14 in the country (and one in Canada) that train student critics to review performances at participating high schools. This year, nine schools in Howard County and three in Baltimore County participated in the program.

Forty to 60 critics discuss each show at a performance and write reviews. The best reviews are published in local newspapers and student publications and, at the end of the year, the critics vote for Cappie winners.

Awards also are given to the top critics based on participation and quality criteria.

A key goal of the Cappies is to draw attention to the work and talent of young people in student theater.

Tschirgi said the Cappie she brought home for playing Lola, a temptress in league with the devil, in Mount Hebron's production of Damn Yankees, is "the first [trophy] that I've ever earned in my entire life. I've never been a big athletic person. ... It's really neat that they do it for musical theater now, too."

She also said it was nice to have students at her school get excited when the Cappie wins were announced Monday morning.

Mount Hebron earned nine Cappies for its production of Damn Yankees, including one for best musical. Long Reach High School received the Cappie for best play and six others for its production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

In addition to recognizing acting, singing, dancing and instrumental music, there are Cappies for technical elements.

Long Reach High School senior Sarah Splaine received a Cappie for designing a round, rotating platform with three separate sections for staging the scenes in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Splaine said she was excited to be recognized.

"You feel like they are paying attention to something you've done," she said. "It's really great for people behind the scenes. ... It was a great feeling because I had put so much work into it."

While the awards add excitement to the gala, organizers are eager to emphasize broader benefits.

"The idea of the Cappies ... is all about celebration of each other and the arts and the publicity we've gotten," said Tom Sankey, math teacher and drama director at Mount Hebron. Because of the Cappies, he said, more people know "there are really wonderful shows in the Baltimore region that people can see for a reasonable price."

After three years, the program "is growing into this huge community of support," said Cate Barry, director of drama at Long Reach High School. "There are a lot of friendships."

Patrick Gilbert, a senior at Mount Hebron High, who won a Cappie for featured actor in a musical, said he appreciates the camaraderie. "I think one of the coolest things is it shows you that you are not alone," he said. "You get to meet other kids that are into the same thing you are."

The opening and closing song and dance numbers and the Cappies gala orchestra also involve participants - chosen by audition - from all of the schools.

Organizers are striving to get more schools involved, but it is challenging, said Carole Lehan, drama director at Glenelg Country School and a Baltimore Cappies program director. The program requires commitment and logistical organization from students, school staff and parents.

But for those who do get involved, a big benefit is being encouraged to see shows at other schools, said Emma Murphy, a sophomore at Glenelg Country, who was a critic in the program.

Without the Cappies, she said, "I wouldn't have seen half of these shows and gotten to appreciate half the talent."

Murphy also received a Cappie award this year for choreographing four dance numbers for her school's production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

"You have pride for your own school," she said. "but as a Cappie [critic] I found myself rooting for the nominees I vote for. Everyone is really excited for everyone else."

2006 Cappies awards

Sound: Tyler Baldwin, Long Reach, The Importance of Being Earnest

Lighting: Brendan Powers and Alex Smith, Loyola Blakefield, Jesus Christ Superstar

Sets: Sarah Splaine, Long Reach, The Importance of Being Earnest

Costumes: Gwen Weaver, Caitlin Littlefield, Daniella Furey, Danielle McFall, Glenelg Country, The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Makeup: Lauryn Fantano, River Hill, The Wizard of Oz

Props and effects: John Duff and Ben Winter, Mount Hebron, Damn Yankees

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