- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

High school theater in Northern Virginia has gone Broadway. Drama students will be recognized at a Tonys-style black-tie gala at the Kennedy Center on June 10, at the "Cappies," the Critics and Awards Program.
The Cappies began last school year when Bill Strauss, co-founder and director of the Capitol Steps comedy troupe, decided it was time to take action. As a father of four and the author of a book about teens, he did not fail to notice that athletes received all the awards at McLean High School's 1999 graduation.
"The whole idea is to elevate theater and the kids and their creative work," he says. "I encourage everybody to go see [school productions]. It's a great thing to take the family to and introduce them to some of the classic shows. The kids are so excited they give you total high-energy, intense performances."
The Cappies program, which is open to public, private and parochial schools, currently has 35 participating schools, including all Fairfax County public high schools; some schools in Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties; and schools in Alexandria.
The plays to be considered for Cappie nominations are chosen by the individual school's theater arts director. As many as 18 to 30 student critics from other schools are assigned by Mr. Strauss to critique plays. After each play, student critics fill out an evaluation form with a points rating. That data is reviewed by an adult panel to determine the five highest-ranking shows in 30 categories, which become the Cappie nominees. Another adult panel selects the Cappie winners based upon the student critics' evaluations.
Mr. Strauss has worked with Montgomery County schools, which have started their own Cappies program with 12 participating schools. Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District is involved in Northern Virginia's Cappie gala this year as a guest participant. The gala is supported by ticket sales.
"We aren't bashful about saying that we see this as something that could and we would love to see it become a national program," says Judith Bowns, theater arts resource teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools and co-founder of the Cappies.
Misha Rentschler, theater arts teacher at Herndon High School, says she is happy to see high school theater receiving recognition.
"I really do have unusually talented kids, and they work extremely hard. We average about 10 hours a week of rehearsals, and on Saturday, we do set construction. They put in a lot of talent and a lot of time," Ms. Rentschler says.
Under her direction, Herndon walked away with five Cappie awards for the 1999-2000 school year for its production of the musical "Singin' in the Rain."
This year's production for the Cappie program is "The Madwoman of Chaillot," which will be performed at the school Dec. 7 through 9 at 7:30 p.m. The play was performed recently at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, and Ms. Rentschler sent the lead actress, freshman Sarah Azzinaro, to Olney to observe.
"She got to meet their lead actress, who is coming to Herndon to watch on Dec. 8," Ms. Rentschler says.
"I am the Madwoman of Chaillot, and I love it very much," Sarah says. "I want to become a very famous movie star and win an Academy Award like my idol, Audrey Hepburn."
She plans to attend either the Julliard School or New York University and study music and drama and minor in communications.
Kate Holesworth, a senior at Herndon High School and president of the drama club there, plays Constance. She has been involved in theater since ninth grade, when she had a cameo in "You Can't Take It With You." She has just applied as an early-decision candidate to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
"I am interested in not only theater, but art history perhaps becoming a curator for a museum," she says.
Lindsey Napoli, a senior at Herndon High School, plays the first lady in "Madwoman." She plans to attend Randolph-Macon Women's College upon graduation. "Musical theater is going to be my minor, and my major, hopefully, will be communications," she says.
That is the other aspect that makes the Cappies special the student critiques.
"They are actually assigned to schools throughout the year to attend and critique shows," says Mrs. Bowns. The student reviews are then submitted for possible publication to a number of local newspapers.
Ashley Schultz, a junior at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, and Savanna Lyons, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Annandale, were recognized as best female critics at the first Cappie awards, held at Hayfield Intermediate and High School in June.
Ashley attended 14 shows and had a number of her critiques published.
"It's really exciting It's not something most kids get a chance to do. It's really exciting to have been thrown into this and see my name on a byline under this critically acclaimed paper (The Washington Post)," she says. In addition to critiquing shows, Ashley also performs. She will play Puck in her school's Cappie production, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," on Jan. 19, 20, 26 and 27.
"It's going to be interesting to see what it's like to be in a Cappie-reviewed show when I'm not the person doing [the review]," she says.
When asked about her favorite shows, Ashley says she enjoyed "Dracula," performed by Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, which won outstanding play at the first Cappie awards, and also "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical production at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria.
Carolyn Myers, a senior at Bishop Ireton, played the lead in "Once Upon a Mattress." She was nominated last school year for outstanding actress for her portrayal of the princess.
"When the announcement came that two people had won for best actress in a musical, and they read my name, it was just like wow I started crying, I was so happy," she says.
"It's so much fun, all of it. The whole process is so much fun. It's not just winning, even though that was wonderful, it's just kind of a bonding experience between all the schools."

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