Cappies Provide Recognition and Appreciation

Their annual gala will be the evening of May 27 at the Aronoff Center. This is a great program for high school kids involved in the arts — I thought it was worth writing more about the program and its annual culminating event.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the Cappies, the awards program for high school performers and critics that involves nearly two dozen area schools from Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Their annual gala will be the evening of May 27 at the Aronoff Center. This is a great program for high school kids involved in the arts — I thought it was worth writing more about the program and its annual culminating event.

The Cappies began in 1999 following the tragic deaths of high school students at Columbine High School in Colorado. Bill Strauss, who founded the political satire troupe Capitol Steps in 1981, decided to bring positive attention to teenagers engaged in creative pursuits. He played a key role in launching the initial Cappies program in Fairfax County, Va. It spread quickly to other cities, including Cincinnati, where it began in 2001. Today there are nearly 20 Cappies programs around the U.S., as well as two in Canada. Programs range in size from five to 55 participating schools.

Greater Cincinnati schools that have participated in the Cappies over the years include Anderson High School, Campbell County High School, Cincinnati Christian Schools, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Colerain High School, Dixie Heights High School, Gallatin County High School, Highlands High School, Loveland High School, Mariemont High School, William Mason High School, McCauley High School, Mount Notre Dame High School, Purcell Marian High School, Randall K. Cooper High School, Larry A. Ryle High School, The School for Creative and Performing Arts, Scott High School, Seven Hills School, Simon Kenton High School, St. Ursula Academy, Taylor High School, Turpin High School, Ursuline Academy and Walnut Hills High School.

The Cappies program is obviously a celebration of high school theater. But it also identifies and encourages aspiring writers by engaging kids with a bent for journalism to serve as critics. Each school selects a set of students to serve as a critic team. They receive training in criticism and review writing, then attend plays at other area high schools. After watching a production, they write reviews of 300-500 words. Teachers mentor young writers with discussions of their reviews, some of which are occasionally published by newspapers or posted online with student bylines.

The broad array of schools means that Tristate kids are crossing state and county lines, and they go back and forth between public and private schools. It’s different from attending high school athletic events, where competition is keen. Cappies Critics are encouraged to be thoughtful and evaluative, but also to write in a way that’s charitable and encouraging of shows they see at other schools. At the gala on Friday evening, there will be lots of squealing and rabble-rousing by students cheering for their own schools. But they also cheer for work by other schools. Excerpts of productions are presented, giving kids and families a chance to see the breadth of high-quality shows that are being staged at schools around the Tristate.

The gala is also a chance for students from various schools to interact. In 2015 the program was co-hosted by kids from Purcell Marian, Gallatin County, William Mason and Mariemont. Many more participate in choreographed production numbers and backstage tasks that bring together students from many schools.

I’m a presenter along with local actors, directors and designers from professional and university theater, community theater volunteers, TV personalities and leaders from ArtsWave and the Cincinnati Arts Association. My annual task has been to recognize excellent teams of critics and, based on my evaluation of a set of essays assembled by mentors, to identify the year’s outstanding critique. (CityBeat posts those reviews online.)

I invite that writer to take the next step in her or his critical journey by joining the CityBeat reviewers covering the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe Festival. She or he will write about some of the festival’s “FringeNext” productions (by students from Highlands, St. Xavier, Seven Hills and Walnut Hills).

It’s heartening to see the excitement and enthusiasm around these creative endeavors and to bask in the glow of kids who have built self-esteem and expanded their talents through engagement in high school theater. In the years ahead, I’m sure we’ll see some of them perform or produce shows on local stages — and maybe even write about theater for CityBeat!

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]

Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
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