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FOCUS ON 21st CENTURY LEARNING

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.

THROUGH THE CAPPIES

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.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

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.

14Nov

Letters to Sala, W.T. Woodson, Fairfax, Virginia, November 9, 2019

Elisabeth Snyder

George Mason High School

 

A young girl stands alone at center stage, a freshly inked letter in hand, looking for a friend to receive it. There is no one to read her words - they're all gone - but an audience of hundreds is taking in every detail of her story.

 

Letters to Sala, a play written by Arlene Hutton and based on the book Sala's Gift by Ann Kirschner, tells the true story of Sala, a girl who survived seven Nazi labor camps during the Holocaust, as she shares letters with her daughter Ann Kirschner, revealing a history hidden for fifty years. W. T. Woodson High School's production of the play focuses on Kirschner as she learns about her mother's life and deliberates the best way to share the letters with the world. As Ann discovers the letters, the audience relives Sala's experiences.

 

Young Sala, played by Elizabeth Vichness, delivers a moving performance anchored in deeply rooted sensitivity and hope. Her acting makes Sala's emotions, from despair to love, come alive. Vichness's loyalty to her character is evident in how she defends saving the letters her family members and friends have sent: with a tear in her eye, she says that is how she keeps them alive.

 

Sara Willcox executes a wide range of emotions with perfect precision in the role of Ala, a woman who promises to watch over Sala when they are sent to the labor camp. Willcox's emotional range and chemistry with Vichness are outstanding. Willcox goes from being the epitome of strength to speaking in a quivering, uncertain voice in the face of extreme danger, but ensures that Ala's commitment to the Jewish cause continues to come through.

 

The present-day scenes are dominated by Rebecca Heimbrock's Ann Kirschner, a demanding personality who often argues with her daughters, Rachel Furr as Elisabeth and Anna Riley as Caroline. Their disagreements over Sala's letters are almost real, with Heimbrock crossing her arms as her daughters spout criticisms of how she deals with Sala's past.

 

Hannah Black, as the innocent German girl Elfriede who befriends Sala, brings a light touch to the production. The ensemble of girls at the labor camp, as well as Young Sala's sisters, friends, and cousins, make real the effects of the Holocaust. Though this is a play about strong women, Herbert, played by Gus Abbruzzese, brought a few well-timed jokes to otherwise serious acting.

 

The actors are supported by strong student direction from Sarah Hasson. This is a challenging production which tackles an important historical topic, but Woodson High School executes it with sensitivity. The cast went through a training about the Holocaust, the set team used significant historical research to inform their designs, and the special effects and technology used in the production emphasize the reality of Sala's story through projections of real photos of Sala and her letters during the play.

 

W. T. Woodson High School put on an inspiring, heart-wrenching production of Letters to Sala that emphasized the need for stories. If people do not  write, everything is lost.


Julia Tucker

Westfield High School

 

A young woman sits at a table, a game box to her left and hundreds of folded papers to her right. The papers contain pictures, letters, birthday cards. Each piece of paper is a portal to another life, one of pain and fear, where friends write voraciously before the letters suddenly stop arriving. Tears stream down her face as she shoves the letters into the box, hoping that the cardboard will keep the memories locked inside. For years the box sits alone but never forgotten. Over fifty years pass before Sala begrudgingly confronts her memories again, but she knows that she must: for herself, for her family, and for her friends who died at the hands of Nazi Germany. W. T. Woodson High School paid a touching tribute to victims of the Holocaust in their thought-provoking production of Letters to Sala.

 

Letters to Sala is a documentary show based on the real letters and experiences of Sala Garncarz Kirschner, a survivor of the Nazi labor camps. The play was written by Arlene Hutton and adapted from a book written by Sala's daughter. Through five years and seven separate camps, Sala heroically finds methods of hiding her contraband letters so Sala can avoid being found and punished by the Nazi guards. After the war, Sala hides her letters and experiences for 50 years before telling her family. Baffled by the information, the family begins to debate the best way to preserve Sala and her friends' memories.

 

Elizabeth Vichness starred as Young Sala. Vichness captured Young Sala's childish approach to problems at the beginning of the play and grew with Young Sala as she was forced to mature prematurely in the concentration camps. Vichness' interactions with Ala (Sara Willcox) were especially moving. Willcox and Vichness' relationship reminded the audience that the play was real and affected real people. Willcox's reading of Ala's heartbreaking goodbye letter gave the entire audience chills as Willcox proved that in real life, sometimes the villains win.

 

Gus Abbruzzese provided much-appreciated comic relief as Herbert. Herbert breaks free of his role as a Nazi official to show kindness to Young Sala on behalf of his family while joking that his sister Elfriede--whom Sala had befriended--talks a lot. Hannah Black played Elfriede. Black immediately established Elfriede as a childish girl who, unlike Sala, was not forced to grow up too soon because of the war. The American soldier Sidney was portrayed by Johnny Hanford. Hanford and Vichness clicked like magnets upon their characters' meeting and depicted the light at the end of a long tunnel.

 

Sarah Hasson and Sara Willcox designed beautiful, symbolic posters to promote the show. The set team lead by Ryn Gallagher conducted thorough research on the buildings Sala would have traveled through and constructed the set accordingly. Abby Shichman and the props team impressively printed out and organized hundreds of letters to be passed around throughout the show. The costumes designed by Lydia Matson were period for both the 1940s and 2005. The projections created by Sara Short helped remind the audience that the story unfolding on stage was real; pictures of letters and photographs to match the action helped the audience visualize what Sala was seeing.

 

Sala was brave when she was stashing her letters to avoid being caught, and just as brave when she finally decided to share her story. W. T. Woodson's production of Letters to Sala respectfully honored Sala and the millions of other Jewish people who became victims of Nazi Germany.

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