Critics and Awards Program is like an Oscar for high school actors

Cappies put students' creativity in spotlight

May 23, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

As prop manager for Wilde Lake High School's production of Beauty and the Beast, sophomore Kimby Josephson had to build a fireplace and create costumes for 60 dancing townspeople with baskets.

Junior Emma Murphy choreographed seven dance numbers -- including moves for a zebra, a jaguar and a parade of prancing food -- in Glenelg Country School's Just So.

Zach Kashkett, a senior, learned "a lot of lines" to play the lead role of Harold Hill in The Music Man at River Hill.

On Sunday night, those young people were recognized along with 33 other individuals and groups at the Hippodrome Theatre by the Cappies of Baltimore program, which strives to shine a spotlight on the long hours, hard work and creativity that goes into high school theater productions.

"You get awards in football and tennis," said Kashkett, who won the Cappie award as lead actor in a musical. "They never existed in drama before. We're there every day ... it's cool to get recognized for that."

Josephson won an award for props and effects, and Murphy shared her second award for choreography with her younger sister, Erica.

The Cappies (Critics and Awards Program), which celebrates and promotes high school theater, started in the Washington area and has spread to 16 locations across the country and in Canada.

During the school year, student critics attend shows designated by the participating schools and write reviews. The best reviews are printed in area newspapers and student publications.

At the end of this year, the Baltimore critics used a point system to identify finalists and winners in 36 Cappie award categories.

The Baltimore Cappies program included 16 schools this year from Howard and Baltimore counties. Several independent schools were new to the program, including Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore, Notre Dame Prep in Towson and Oldfields in Glencoe.

Carole Lehan, the Baltimore Cappies program director, would like to see more schools participate. "The bigger the pool, the bigger the perspective for students to see what being part of a community is," she said.

But Lehan, who is also chairwoman of Glenelg Country School's performing arts department, said it can be difficult for schools to make the huge investment of staff and volunteer hours.

She also said that if there were more schools, the program would not be able to have every one showcase a scene from their musical or play at the gala, as they did this year.

Fourteen of the schools were recognized in at least one category, with Glenelg Country School and Hammond High School, which produced Arsenic and Old Lace, taking home five Cappies each.

Wilde Lake also won five Cappies, including best musical for Beauty and the Beast, while Centennial won best play for a female version of The Odd Couple along with three other awards.

River Hill was recognized for having the top team of critics and received two other awards.

Marcy Coburn called the ceremony, where she won the Cappie as comic actress in a play "nerve-racking, but so much fun."

The Centennial senior said, "My first reaction was that it was a mistake. ... I walked up to the podium. I tried not to trip. It was incredible. It was really nice hearing everyone in our cast was just so excited for me."

Coburn said playing aggravating roommate Florence Unger in The Odd Couple was "difficult to do, but it was a lot of fun. It's a lot of interaction with the other people, and the way you can play off them."

Her castmate, Tom McQuaid, received the Cappie for comic actor in a play. He said: "I think it's really important to have a solid character, to know who your character is. That will make it come easier instead of trying to force laughs out of the audience."

McQuaid, a sophomore from Ellicott City, played one of two brothers who go on a date with the main characters.

He was also recognized as a rising critic, one of several awards for critics based on the amount and quality of work they did throughout the year.

As a critic, he said he learned that actors need to "make a lasting impression in [the critics'] minds," if they want to be remembered when voting time comes around in April. "You have to make yourself known."

Jessica Goldstein, a Wilde Lake student who was honored for her work as a senior critic, said she tries to focus on the work of the actors and crew. "I don't start writing until I've thought about the show for a day or two," she said. "I need to let my feeling about the show wear off in a way."

She said the part of the Cappies program where critics get together and talk about the performance they are reviewing can help clarify her thoughts.

Pam Land, a drama teacher at River Hill High School, said the interaction among the students is one of the best parts of the program. "It creates a bigger community for the kids outside of the schools." she said. "There are some wonderful networks that have been created."

Students said the awards add an element of excitement to the gala and to the Cappies program, but they know there is a certain amount of subjectivity involved.

"Looking at the other girls nominated at the gala, I felt like all of us deserved it," said Joanna Grabau, a Wilde Lake senior. She was named best cameo actress for playing Babette, a French feather duster, in Beauty and the Beast.

"It is a bittersweet tension," she said of waiting to see who will win, "especially when one of my friends was nominated."

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