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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.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, James Madison High School, Vienna, Virginia, November 16, 2019

Julianne Cuevo

Flint Hill School


In the magical forest outside Athens, mischief is afoot. Love will turn to hate, hate will turn to love, and for one night, fantasy will reign over reality. The students of James Madison High School immersed audiences in the fanciful realm of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."


One of Shakespeare's most famous works, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was written in 1595. The play's many opportunities for both drama and comedy make it a favorite of theatergoers worldwide. It follows Oberon and Titania, estranged king and queen of the fairies, whose lives become intertwined with those of the Athenian humans. Through magic, Oberon and his servant, Puck, cause chaos for four youths looking for love and a bumbling group of Mechanicals trying to put on a play. While performing Shakespeare can sometimes be difficult because of the archaic language, all the actors were equipped for the challenge. They clearly understood their lines and conveyed to the audience the meaning behind the complex words.


Elenora Fiel (Hermia), Nick Hovis (Demetrius), Logan Neville (Lysander), and Jordan Roller (Helena) played the four young lovers with sincerity and innocence. They all had palpable chemistry with one another, even when the directions of their love square were switched around by Oberon's magic. During that pivotal scene, each actor showcased impressive emotional depth. Neville was very successful as Lysander. His shift from love for Hermia to infatuation with Helena was dramatic and believable, and he remained interesting to watch throughout the performance.


The Rude Mechanicals, played by Charlie Arase, Will Bush, Kyler Neville, Ash Rauch, Adam Sieff, and Spencer Todd, stood out as an audience favorite. From their first appearance in the show to their final bows at curtain call, they were outrageously funny. Charlie Arase (Nick Bottom) was especially hilarious; his over-the-top physicality matched the larger-than-life quality of his character, and he emphasized the instances of Shakespeare's clever wordplay that add so much to the comic nature of the play. He stole the show whenever he was onstage, whether as an actor in the play-within-a-play, or as the donkey-eared object of Titania's affection. In addition, Kyler Neville had a great performance as Flute. His portrayal of Thisbe in the play-within-a-play was terrifically funny as he struggled to speak in a high falsetto, but it was also especially moving. His poignant emotion while giving Thisbe's final monologue was a strong choice and demonstrated his multifaceted talent as an actor.  


Technical elements maximized the show's success, further enveloping the audience in the play's mystical atmosphere. The set was gorgeous:  complete with a life-size tree, a huge flowered stump, two offstage platforms, and two leafy spiral staircases, the set successfully transformed the stage into the magical woods. Designed by Renee Erickson, Casey Deege, and John Lande, it was a sight to behold and a definite highlight of the production. Hair, makeup (Maria Christou), and costumes (Lauren Bretl) were also very effective. With identical leotards and ethereal, shimmering makeup, the fairy ensemble looked cohesive and enchanting.


"A Midsummer Night's Dream" ends with Puck's asking the audience to clap for the actors. But at James Madison High School's remarkable production, the audience was already applauding well before Puck's entreaty. Skilled performances and technical accomplishments made this show whimsical and fun filled. Certainly, it was a dream to remember.

Grace Tarpgaard

George Mason High School


Shakespeare's famous world of love, magic, and fairy dust came to a life in James Madison High School's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The Shakespearean comedy was written in the late 1500's, and it is set in an enchanted forest where four different storylines interconnect. With love charms, a play-within-a-play, and feuding fairies, the show entails constant comedy and stunning visuals that have left audiences in awe for 400 years and counting. James Madison captured this light-hearted comedy brilliantly with the use of slapstick humor and excellent delivery, perfectly complimenting their fairytale-esque set and costumes.


Leads Lysander (Logan Neville) and Helena (Jordan Roller) shined as half of "The Lovers" quartet. Neville's impeccable diction and seamless character development showed his depth of understanding of the character and language. The intention evident behind every line added a whole new level to his already lovable character. Roller showed a similar understanding in her roll of Helena with multiple lengthy monologues and a dynamic range of emotion.


Comic reliefs Nick Bottom (Charlie Arase) and Puck (Celeste Phillips) had audiences laughing out loud with their over-the-top expressions and incredible use of physical humor. Arase's performance with the fairies was absolutely hilarious and his role as "Pyramus" in the play-within-a-play, along with his fellow members of "The Mechanicals" (Will Bush, Kyler Neville, Ash Rauch, Adam Sieff, and Spencer Todd), captured the ridiculousness that his character entails. Phillips held her own as the mischievous Puck, complimenting her master Oberon (Ben Eggleston) while also shining individually. Her stage presence was captivating, especially in scenes with "The Lovers" where she nimbly navigated the various love charms she had bestowed upon them.


However, the show would not be complete without the outstanding set and costumes that amplified the show's magic. Sets by Renee Erickson, Casey Deege, and John Lande showed incredible attention to detail with virtually every inch of the stage covered in vines and flowers. Additionally, the set utilized the space excellently by placing platforms in the first few rows of the audience and providing levels onstage. Costumes by Lauren Bretl matched the enchanted mood of the set with fairies decked out in sparkles and "The Lovers" in traditional Shakespearean garments. The cohesiveness of each ensemble was also reinforced by the costume choices, making for a brilliant stage picture all around.


James Madison High School's performance of the classic "A Midsummer Night's Dream" flawlessly navigated the challenges posed by multiple intertwining storylines with intention and grace. Technical aspects such as sets and costumes brought the show to life with the use of mythological forest elements and lots of sparkles. The hard work and dedication put into the production was evident and audiences were loving every second of the journey through the magnificent world of young love and magical creatures that has become beloved by so many across the world.


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