Cappies to Celebrate Year's Best in Theater

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The nominees for prizes in the Cappies Program -- which will celebrate its winners at a Tony Awards-style gala May 27 at the Kennedy Center -- were announced last week.

The high school theater Critics and Awards Program, which began in 1999 with 14 schools in Northern Virginia -- 13 Fairfax County public schools and Bishop Ireton -- now boasts 17 programs, 16 in the United States and one in Ottawa.

The programs vary in size. Springfield, Mo., has five participating schools, and Philadelphia has 31 after just two years.

As much as the Cappies program has expanded elsewhere, it remains an intense venture here, with 55 high schools throughout the Washington area vying for the awards.

From theatrical productions at those 55 schools, the Cappies program selects nominees for an array of award categories, including best play, best musical and best props and effects, as well as best high school critics who have chronicled the season.

At the awards gala, during which some of the actors, dancers, singers, musicians, choreographers and technical crews will strut their stuff, the winners will be announced to an audience that fills the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The first gala was at Hayfield Secondary School in 2000, and the awards program moved to the Kennedy Center a year later.

Cable television Channel 21 broadcasts the gala in Fairfax County, and PBS affiliate WETA will broadcast it this year throughout the area, program officials said.

Each school that participates in the program designates one show a year as its Cappies production, and students who have been taught to critique productions attend the show, write their reviews and submit them for publication.

The Washington Post and other newspapers in the area publish some of the reviews, and many are carried online at

The Cappies program was conceived by Bill Strauss of McLean, a founder of the Capitol Steps political parody group, and he found immediate support in Judy Bowns, a longtime theater arts resource teacher in the Fairfax schools.

Strauss, troubled by the Columbine shootings and frustrated by a lack of publicity for high school students' positive accomplishments, imagined the Cappies program as a way to recognize students who were involved in activities other than athletics.

Cappies does not take the summer off. In 2002, Cappies International Theater began bringing the best performers from all Cappies programs to Washington for several weeks each summer to work on new plays and musicals at the Kennedy Center Theater Lab.

Last year, the International Theater introduced a full-length musical, "Edit: Undo," written by eight students from Virginia and Maryland. This year, it plans to complete another musical, "Senioritis."

For more information about the May 27 gala, visit


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