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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


"And the Cappie goes to ..."

Also see John's review of Goldie, Max & Milk

Each Spring, these are the words that leave thousands of tuxedo and gown clad young men and women breathless with anticipation. With all the intensity and glamour of the Tony Awards, they have awaited this moment—the Cappies Gala—hoping that they may be one of those going home with a prized Cappies Award in their hands at the end of the evening. The Cappies (the Critics and Awards Program) is a program through which high school theater and journalism students are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, write reviews, and publish those reviews in local newspapers. Students form critic teams, with teachers or industry professionals volunteering as Cappie mentors. Critics are often trained with help from the writers of local papers. Throughout the year, each critic reviews five shows, and each teacher-mentor volunteers twice. In late spring, critics vote for Cappie Awards. Five Nominees are selected in each of 35 categories, along with four Commendees per school. At the end of the year, the Cappie Awards are presented by local V.I.P.s at a Cappies Gala. At the Gala, selected students perform songs and sketches from nominated shows. Each year, over 200 students receive Cappies honors of some kind. In July and August many of the top award honorees from around the U.S. and Canada are invited to participate in the Cappies International Theater, where they perform shows at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The inspiration for the Cappies came from concerns that grew from the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. "After Columbine, it became particularly important to find ways to give teenagers positive reinforcement. You have to balance out the youth culture," said William Strauss, who is the author of several books on sociology. Several years ago, Strauss was speaking at a high school awards ceremony and said he was dismayed at the prevalence of honors for athletes, and the lack of attention paid to theater students. Working with Virginia theatre teacher Judy Bowns he created what became known as The Cappies, now in its eleventh year. The Cappies Mission Statement:

  • To Provide a unique collaborative learning experience for high school theater students.
  • To encourage and advance the training of student writers, performing artists, and technical crews.
  • To inspire creativity and critical thinking.
  • To offer constructive critical feedback for student theatrical endeavors.
  • To foster more community recognition of students achievement in theater arts.
  • To enhance, celebrate, and add excitement to high school theater across America.

There are currently Cappies programs in Baltimore (Maryland), Cincinnati (Ohio/Kentucky), Dallas (Texas), Edmonton (Canada), El Paso (Texas), Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach (Florida), Kansas City (Missouri), Houston (Texas), Melbourne (Florida), National Capital Area (DC/Maryland/Virginia), New Jersey Metro (New Jersey), Orange County (California), Orlando (Florida), Ottawa (Canada), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania/New Jersey), Salt Lake City (Utah), Springfield (Missouri) and St. Louis (Missouri). The Cappies welcomes charter applications from across the United States and Canada. To form a charter, prospective charters need to do the following:

  • Organize a small local meeting, with students, parents, and teachers. There will need to be at least four schools willing to participate for an application to be approved.
    Form a steering committee, and apply for a charter. Roles include Program Director, Chair, Treasurer, and board members.
  • Find a program director - a person willing to volunteer time to make this work. This could be a parent, a teacher, or a theater professional.
  • Invite local newspapers to publish reviews.
    Fill out the online charter application.
  • Submit a written charter application with endorsement, affirmation, and charter fees within 7 days of completing the online application.

Once approved, Cappies officials from across the U.S. and Canada will help the new charter get off to a good start, and assist with the first critics' training session. In the first year, and in the years to follow, it may take a great deal of time, energy and devotion, but the rewards from this experience are well worth the effort.

Schools may only join by participating in a Cappies program in its own area. To participate a school needs to:

  • Provide complimentary tickets, a Cappies Room, and refreshments, for visiting Mentors and Critics
  • Appoint a Lead Critic
  • Select Critics Team (three to six students, all of whom must be trained), willing to review at least five shows each*
  • Have your team submit at least 15 reviews and have at least two voting Critics to qualify your Cappies Show for awards
  • Provide teacher-mentors for two Cappies Shows at other schools**
  • Pay a participation fee (see your Program's web page, or ask your Program Director)
  • Agree to follow the rules
  • Fill out the online application form
  • Fill out and mail the written application form and affirmation
  • Have each student fill out the parental authorization form before training

    * A school may also select one to three Critics for Regional Teams, who will be assigned separately.
    ** Some programs allow each school to select two Cappies Shows. In which case each school must provide teacher-mentors for four shows.

    To learn if a Cappies program is being organized in your area, please send an email to info@cappies.com.

    In early fall, each participating school selects a play or musical as its Cappies show. Two or three dozen student critics attend a designated Cappies show night to review the show. At the Cappies show night, parent boosters host the critics by setting up a Cappies Room, with decorations and refreshments. Before the show, during intermission, and after the show, teacher-mentors lead critic discussions. Each critic goes home and writes a 300-400 word review of the performance they have seen. In their reviews, the critics are encouraged to criticize, but not name the specific individuals in question. The reviews are submitted anonymously via their Cappies website. Teacher-mentors edit the reviews, and select which reviews (usually five or six) should be published. All reviews are sent to the school that put on the show. Only the identities of those critics selected for publication are revealed. In the United States, Cappies reviews may be seen in publications such as The Washington Post, Cincinnati Enquirer, Dallas Morning News, Kansas City Star, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    The Cappies Awards categories include those for Sound, Lighting, Sets, Costumes, Make-Up, Props & Effects, Stage Crew, Orchestra, Choreography, Song, Play, Musical; Creativity in Directing, Play Writing, Composing, Lyric Writing, Musicianship and Unusual Use of Technology; Critics and Critics Team; Lead and Featured Actors and Actresses; Ensembles; Dancers and Vocalists.

    The South Florida Cappies are the first Cappies program in the State of Florida. Now in its sixth season, they are headed by Program Director Lori Sessions. Their year-end gala is hosted at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale. You can see selected South Florida Cappies reviews published in the Sun-Sentinel Online, The Miami Herald online and in such local papers as The Forum. To get a feel for what the program means to those students involved, three local Cappies critics (Olivia Valdes, Joe Anarumo and Arielle Hoffman) were chosen for a brief interview with Talkin Broadway critic John Lariviere.

    Olivia Valdes is a junior at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek. She is a second year Cappies critic, and the winner of the 2010 Best Sophomore Critic Award. Olivia received the Critic's Choice Award in Playwriting at this year's District 7 Thespian Competition. She is also a student editor at Teenlink South Florida, a Sun Sentinel branch run by and written for high school students.

    Joe Anarumo is a junior at West Boca Community High School in Boca Raton. He is a third year Cappies critic. He received a nomination for a Cappies Award for Freshman Critic, and is lead critic for his school.

    Arielle Hoffman is a junior at Coral Springs High School in Coral Springs. She is a third year Cappies critic. Last year she received a Critic's Choice Award for Monologues, a Critic's Choice Award for Student Directed Scene, and was named Best Supporting Actress at One Acts; and was part of the Coral Springs Cappies critic team when they received the Best Critics Team Cappies Award. She is also the daughter of professional actors Avi Hoffman and Laura Turnbull, who have received multiple awards for their considerable acting endeavors.

    John Lariviere:  How/Why did you become involved in the Cappies program?
    Olivia Valdes:  I came into Cappies as a lover of both writing and theater, so the program seemed very well suited for me. The opportunity to see over two dozen high school productions was quite exciting, and I knew I wanted to experience a creative aspect of journalism.
    Joe Anarumo:  I joined my high school Cappies critic team as a freshman, have been on the team ever since, and have just been appointed lead critic for my school. I love writing, and I love theater—so the Cappies program is a perfect fit for me.
    Arielle:  I became involved in Cappies because it was a way to get more involved in theater within my high school. I have always known about it because of my parents, and being able to be a part of it was something I always wanted to do. The lead critic at my high school contacted me and asked me to join the team.

    John:  What is the most enjoyable part of the Cappies experience?
    Olivia:  The most wonderful part of the Cappies program is the opportunity it gives participants to meet other students with similar interests. We teenage theater critics are not exactly a majority in our high schools, so it's nice to know that we aren't the only kids who use words like "proscenium" in everyday conversation. I've met one of my best friends through the program, and I'm always looking forward to our Friday night Cappies nights.
    Joe:  The most enjoyable part about being a Cappies critic is, without a doubt, supporting local high school theater by seeing their show, and, of course, making new friends.
    Arielle:  Hmm ... the most enjoyable Cappies experience? That's a hard one. Probably all the evenings of Cappies shows in general. I have this "Cappies Candle" that I bring with me to every show. Most Cappies critics know about it. It's just a fake candle that I started bringing to shows. We turn it on when we arrive at the Cappies show, and turn it off when we leave. Over the past two years I have made so many friends in the Cappies program from all over. Being able to see shows, eat mostly awesome food, and discuss out thoughts by the light of our Cappies Candle is an experience like no other.

    John:  What is the most challenging part of the Cappies experience?
    Olivia:  Deadlines! I like to consider myself first and foremost a writer, and I can get rather passionate about crafting the most perfect sentence possible. I want to write the best reviews I can—reviews that might interest a reader and get them excited about high school theater. While I imagine this trait could come in handy, it is not my best quality when Sunday morning arrives and a review is due in ten minutes.
    Joe:  The most challenging part of being a Cappies critic is definitely starting a review with a catchy phrase, or as some put it, a zinger. This is very important because a strong opening is crucial to writing a good review that will not only express your thoughts about the show, but also be enjoyable to read.
    Arielle:  The most challenging part of the Cappies experience is probably when we have to write reviews. I'm not an awesome writer, and if you want to get published you need to be a tad better than the rest. I've definitely improved, but it's still the hardest part. Sometimes the shows aren't the best in the world, but because we're all about celebrating high school theater, it's important to highlight the good parts of the shows. When you're a critical young person, who has seen a lot of professional theater, that can be harder than it sounds.

    John:  In what way(s) has being a part of the Cappies changed the way in which you view the performing arts?
    Olivia:  I pay much more attention to the nuances of theater. Before joining Cappies, I saw shows mainly for entertainment value—to think, to be amused, but rarely to analyze. Now, however, I find that I can barely manage to take off my Cappies hat. I am always considering actors' choices in their roles, directorial decisions, changes to the initial script, or the quality of the costumes. I especially notice I keep an eye on the tech crew—whether or not they're visible, what their role in the production is, etc. Cappies has definitely helped me to gain a knowledge base and a vocabulary to write and think analytically and critically about theater, rather than simply observe passively.
    Joe:  The main way the Cappies program has changed my outlook on the performing arts is being exposed to all different types of shows. This program really does offer you the opportunity to uncover different types of plays and musicals throughout history, formed by some of the most creative people in the world. The program gives you the chance to see shows reaching back to more classical Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim productions, to more contemporary Stephen Schwartz and David Yazbeck shows.
    Arielle:  I'm not going to say it has completely changed how I view the performing arts, but it's definitely made quite an impact. This is the first time I've been able to step outside the bounds of a performer to analyze and critique what other people have done. It has also made me more open to the world of technical theater. I have now designed sets, stage managed, designed costumes and directed at my school. I appreciate theater in a completely different light now since my opinion matters.

    John:  What has been your most memorable Cappies moment?
    Olivia:  Although it probably sounds cliché, my most memorable Cappies experience was the 2010 Gala. It was my first Cappies gala, and I was amazed by the professionalism of the entire event. I am always so proud to see my thespian friends' unbelievable talents, so it was wonderful to experience an entire event celebrating that talent. Of course, the honor of receiving a Cappies Award for Best Sophomore Critic did not at all detract from the excitement of the evening!
    Joe:  My most memorable Cappies moment was the very first time one of my reviews got published my freshman year, which evidently led to a nomination for a Cappies Award for Freshman Critic at the Cappies Gala.
    Arielle:  Okay, the most memorable moment? There are so many. Probably the thing I will remember the most is when we won Best Cappies Team last year. We only had five kids on our team, and we were/are such a tight-knit group. Together we submitted 82 reviews, and were published 18 times. My parents presented us our award, and I brought my Cappies Candle up with me. It could not have been a better moment!

    For more information on the Cappies you may contact Cappies Headquarters by writing them at 3877 Fairfax Ridge Rd., South Tower Suite 3-111 in Fairfax, VA 22030, calling 1-877-90-CAPPY (22779), or emailing at info@cappies.com.


    See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

    -- John Lariviere



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