Shining a spotlight on students

High schoolers received awards - Cappies - for their achievements in theater

June 04, 2008|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Special To The Sun

Dozens of high school students heard their names called, listened to the cheers of the crowd and climbed onto the stage of the Hippodrome Theatre on Sunday night to receive Cappie awards recognizing achievement in high school theater.

But for Carole Lehan, program director for the Cappies of Baltimore, the scene that really captures the spirit of the event happened a few hours earlier, when the daylong rehearsal for the Cappies gala was complete.

In a large ballroom, 500 students crowded together and held their hands out toward the middle of the room for a final show of encouragement.

"It was a good moment of unity," Lehan said.

For nine years, Cappies (Critics and Awards Program) organizations across North America have worked to unite the high school theater community and bring attention and support to the young people who take part in plays and musicals throughout the school year.

The Baltimore-area program began in Howard County five years ago and has added public and private schools in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, reaching 19 participating schools this year.

Each school puts together a team of student critics, who attend designated shows at other schools and write reviews. The top reviews are printed in school and professional publications.

At the end of the year, the critics choose nominees and then vote for winners of Cappie awards. There are categories for lead and supporting performers in musicals and plays as well as for technical elements such as lighting, sound, sets, costumes and others. Top critics are also recognized for their work throughout the year.

In addition to announcing the winners at its formal gala, the Baltimore program also invites every participating school to perform a scene from its production, an opportunity that Lehan said is rewarding in itself.

The gala "was definitely amazing," said J.C. Abarcar, a sophomore at Oakland Mills High School. "I met so many new people who share the same interests as me."

He said he enjoyed cheering for the five awards, including Best Play, that his school won for its production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor.

When he was announced as the recipient of the award for lead actor in a play, Abarcar, who played the narrator in the comedy, said, "I couldn't believe it at first. I kept thinking it should have gone to my fellow cast members, so I dedicated it to them."

The recognition was also exciting for Steven Fleming, Oakland Mill's director of theater arts, who is finishing his first year as a teacher. He said that it took a while to get the cast and crew comfortable with his more conceptual approach to the play but that everything came together over time.

Fleming had assisted with the gala in previous years and knew several of the program leaders. He decided to reintroduce the Cappies at his school, which stopped participating in 2006.

"I had to repromote it, talk it back up," he said. "I had to recruit new people to be writers."

He added: "I feel very strongly about the Cappies program and the value it has as a celebration of theater. A lot of the time, kids don't get to see theater outside of their own [schools]."

Glenelg Country School, where Lehan is performing arts director, also received five awards for its production of the play Aesop's Foibles. It also has the top critic team and the top senior critic, Maya Munoz.

Lehan said she especially enjoyed seeing freshman Nick Zients win in the category of cameo actor. His role as Red Ant involved no lines, just pantomiming and shuffling across the stage.

"It is proof of the line that there are no small parts," she said. "I'll be telling that story for the rest of my life."

In total, 16 schools took home awards. Loyola Blakefield High School in Towson claimed the prize for best musical for its production of Ragtime.

The gala organizers took time to remember the co-founder of the national Cappies program, Bill Strauss, who died of cancer in December.

Strauss, who was a founder of the satirical group The Capitol Steps, studied generational history and co-wrote several books in that area, including two about the millennial generation. He was an advocate for recognizing and celebrating that age group's potential.

Remembering the performers putting their hands toward the center of the room at the end of rehearsal, Lehan said of Strauss, "He would have loved that moment. They were united as a generation."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.