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The Cappies is a writing and awards program that trains high school theatre and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders. Student critics vie to be published in local media outlets by attending productions at other schools and writing critical reviews.


Theatre and journalism students are trained as critics and attend each others shows. Cappies students discuss and learn about theatre production. Throughout the year, newspapers publish the reviews with the students' bylines. At the end of the year, Cappies student critics decide who among their peer performers and technicians should be recognized for awards at the end of the season with glamour and excitement.


Each participating school selects a show to be attended, and also forms a team of 3 to 9 student critics and 2 adult volunteers in the fall. Shows may have between 20 and 90 critics in attendance. Critic teams and mentors gather in a private discussion room to perform pre, mid, and post show discussions. The technical and performance aspects of the show are discussed with provided documentation from the host school.

After each show, with adult oversight, the mentors and program director select the best written reviews to be sent to local press outlets. All the reviews are also sent back to the performing school.

At the end of the season, a Tonys-like celebration occurs, where all nominated shows perform a cutting or the critics' choice song, and the final Cappies awards are presented with a trophy by regional critics and peers.


Almost, Maine, The New School of Northern Virginia, Fairfax, Virginia, March 16, 2019

Lily Perez

Woodrow Wilson High School


You won't find Almost, Maine on a map, but you'll surely find it in your heart. Through a series of vignettes imbued with magical realism, the New School constructed a heartwarming portrait of love at its best and its worst. John Cariani's play premiered in 2004, and has been widely-produced - this iteration of the almost-town and its colorful characters married comedic and dramatic aspects of an emotion essential to the fundamental human experience, coming together to prove that love is always worthwhile.


The New School's intimate black-box space, backlit by cool green and blue lighting evoking the Northern Lights, served as a versatile backdrop for the diverse settings of the play's condensed tales of falling in and out of love. Nuanced lighting changes allowed the actors to remain the focus of the scenes, but became prominent in moments which were thus purposely punctuated. The actors were also extremely commendable in maintaining their focus with audience members seated just inches away, never exiting the world which they had constructed with their scene partners.


Though every scene introduced a fresh set of circumstances, each served as a microcosmic view of a relationship which manifested love in different, amusingly absurdist ways. From the sweet, to the bittersweet, to the plain bitter love stories which "Almost Maine" contains, the cast shone in dual capacities. Some, such as Annie Kraemer (as Villain, a cheerful waitress) and Gillian Merrill (the long-suffering and marriage-ready Gayle), left a lasting impression through a single appearance; others showed versaitility in creating personas with distinct arcs in a variety of scenes. Jamie Testa and Matthew Swiacki played a range of uniquely endearing male characters - the former bookended the production as Pete, and both showed dexterity in evoking the lighthearted tone of scenes in the first act, and later the heavier aspects of the second act.


Two actors set themselves apart, anchoring a significant portion of the snapshots of life in the upper reaches of Maine. Ethan Ocasio consistently flexed his comedic muscles, whether through his nervous mannerisms as the lovestruck East, overt frustration as Lendall, or earnest confessions as Dave. Sofie Strompf seamlessly metamorphosed from Marci, a chagrined wife, to the assertive Rhonda in "Seeing the Thing," in which she played opposite Ocasio. In that euphoric final scene, the chemistry between Ocasio and Strompf served as an incomparable finale to the production which highlighted the comedic abilities of both actors, as well as their commitment to physical choices.


This cast populated the mythical place with very real people, proving the ubiquity of love in all its forms. The actors aptly handled the fast-talking nature of Almost, Maine's residents, which includes dense dialogue with natural pacing, stuttering, and overlapping. Excellent use of silence strengthened scene work throughout, adding thematic depth and proving the actors' capabilities of communicating without uttering a single word.


Love was in the air of the New School's production of "Almost, Maine," evoking the ebbs and flows of relationships with wit and ardor. In the wintry world which the cast and crew created, this production could still warm hearts.


Joe Malone

Oakton High School


It's uncharted territory. Township Thirteen, Range Seven. You won't find it on a map. There are no road signs to help you get there. But nonetheless, it's a marvelous little town. One filled with comradery, support, and most importantly, love. And as the sun set on the quaint, charming town known to locals as Almost, Maine, the players of The New School proved to the audience just how imperative such qualities are for a place like this.


Originally written by John Cariani, Almost, Maine initially debuted at the Portland Stage Company in 2004 in Portland, Maine. The production was greeted with open arms as it broke box office records and was immediately showered with overwhelming praise. In the year 2006, the show opened Off-Broadway at the Daryl Roth Theatre in January and closed the very next month. Almost, Maine was featured in Smith and Kraus' New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2006 and has since become the most produced play in North American high schools, surpassing Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The production follows the stories of nine couples, new and old, that take place on one Friday evening in the rural, never-organized town known as Almost, Maine. As the night progresses, the townsfolk dive into a deep understanding regarding the twists and turns of first love, love lost, and what it means to love in the first place.


In this vignette-style campfire romantic comedy, it is not uncommon to see actors portray multiple characters in the span of a single production, and nobody did a better job of doing so than Ethan Ocasio (East/Lendall/Dave) who inhabited each character with ease as he jumped between the characterization of the curious, if not impulsive, repairman, the malleable yet benevolent husband-to-be, and the vulnerable mill worker trying to use his artwork to display his feelings to his longtime friend. Ocasio's whimsical mannerisms and boy-like innocence made him an undeniable force to be reckoned with from the moment he appeared on stage. In addition to his flawless character work, Ocasio displayed irrefutable chemistry with his scene partners, the most notable being Sofie Strompf (Marci/Rhonda), who found the perfect balance between her portrayal of the miserable wife contemplating what had become of her husband, and the comedic tough-as-nails arm wrestling reigning champion whose intimidation and masculine energy made her skeptical of the notion of romantic entanglement.


The production's lighting proved to be nothing if not spectacular, and in a cozy environment much like the one at The New School, the effects that were manifested created an ambiance that instilled both warmth and wonder in the audience. Despite being in a black box theatre, The New school Theatre Tech Team assembled and hung a Cyc, on which they were able to present the awe-inspiring colors of the Aurora Borealis as well as the passionate sunrise that dawned upon two new lovers in their newly discovered romance, all of which was courtesy of the lighting rig fastened to several sets of scaffolding. In addition to the superlative lighting of the production, the set design provided a simplistic approach that perfectly encapsulated the essence of the rural northeast. Consisting of several bushes and trees, a window pane, and a bench, the set of The New School's production was able to fully immerse the audience into the community depicted onstage whilst remaining subtle in appearance.


The New School's production of Almost, Maine will remind all who attend of the thrill of romance, the agony of heartbreak, and everything in between. This heartwarming romantic comedy proves to be capable of melting the frigid conditions of Maine.


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