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The Booster

Helping Out at Your School's Cappies Show

As the Cappies Booster for your school, your primary task is to assist your Show Director in planning and hosting your school's Cappies Show.

If you and the Show Director wish, you can treat your Cappies Show as a major event, with decorations, hallway entertainment, alumni receptions, the presence of administrators and faculty -- or you can treat it as just another show, except with Cappie Critics present.

CAPPIES ROOM

Your school will need to provide a "Cappies Room" for Critics and Mentors. It can be a school room, chorus room, cafeteria, or something like that. You'll need to make that room available 45 minutes before curtain and up to 45 minutes after final bows. It probably won't take that long, but it might. Please check with the Show Director to make sure the school's security force realizes this. 

Please confirm that the room will be kept secure, and locked, during the performance. If this is not possible, please alert the Mentors, so they can advise Critics to keep all valuables with them at all times. 

If more than 20 Critics are on the attendance list, and if you have it available, please try to provide a simple microphone and speaker for the Mentors to use. This aids greatly in discussions. It helps to set up the room in a way that best promotes discussion between the Critics, in a circle or all around one big table, depending on the number of Critics expected. 

Under the rules, your school must provide complimentary refreshments in the Cappies Room -- something to drink, perhaps some chips, cookies, something comparable to what the audience can buy at intermission. If you want to provide more than the minimum, that's fine, and (especially on week nights) it's often appreciated, but it's really not necessary -- and, over the years, no one has ever felt that the quality of the food influences Critics, one way or the other. 

Whoever handles the food -- probably parent Boosters -- needs to know that they can't be in the room during intermission and after the show, when the Critics are discussing anything. Those conversations are highly confidential, to ensure that nobody's feelings will be hurt. This means that parents will have to wait until the Critics are finished before they can start cleaning up. (Critics are encouraged to help clean up the Cappies Room.) 

You'll need to provide at least one student usher, to stand outside the door of the Cappies Room and escort the Mentors and Critics to their seats right before the show starts, and again after intermission. Please make sure your stage manager doesn't start the show, or resume after intermission, until you know that Critics and Mentors have been seated. It works well if they're the last ones seated, and then you start the show. 

While the Critics are in the Cappies Room, the usher should stay by the door, in case there are any questions. It helps if the usher knows who's who on the cast. The Show Director needs to be reachable, in case the Mentors have any questions. 

You may wish to provide a waiting area, with chairs, for parents of Critics, who (as drivers) must arrive and leave when the Critics do, but cannot enter the Cappies Room.

MATERIALS FOR CRITICS

You'll need to provide show programs to all Mentors and Critics. Make sure your show program spells all student and character names accurately -- and spells them the same, every time they appear. You can help the Show Director by proofreading carefully, to prevent easily avoidable misspellings of names in published reviews. 

You can give them any other materials you'd like, about anything you think they should know about the show. It can help Critics reviewing your show if a board in the lobby displays the photographs and names of cast members.

SHOW TICKETS

Under the rules, your school is required to provide complimentary tickets to Critics and Mentors. You can assist the Show Director in handling the details of this. Schools are encouraged, but not required, to provide excellent seats -- preferably center section, about rows five to seven. Do not seat Critics in the first row or two -- that can distract your performers -- but make sure they are where they can see and hear well (even if sound and light problems arise), appreciate the intensity of the performances, and feel the energy of the audience response. At a musical, try not to seat Critics too close to the orchestra, to make sure they can hear the vocalists well. 

If you seat the Critics elsewhere -- on the sides, in the back, or in a balcony -- you run the risk that they may not see and hear well enough to give full credit to all aspects of the show. 

Many Critics also bring parents and other friends (often to help with driving), and they must purchase tickets. 

Please rope off wherever the Critics are going to sit, and make sure your ushers enforce this until the Critics arrive. It can be quite awkward when Critics enter the theater, right before curtain, and do not have enough seats, or have to sit around others in their seating area. Unless you have a full house and need every seat, it's a good idea not to have parents of students at your school, or anybody else, sitting next to Critics. The Critics like to write down notes during shows, and they don't like to do it when somebody from the school is sitting next to them, peering onto what they may be writing. 

The number of Critics who attend your show will depend on the size of your program, the week of your show, and other factors. In small programs, during busy periods, the number may be ten or fewer. In large programs, especially at year end and during weeks when not many schools have shows, the number of Critics could swell to more than fifty. 

Two weeks, one week, and two days before the show, you'll get an email telling you how many tickets are being requested. The final count is usually (but not always) slightly smaller than the final ticket count. Please note that you will be asked to provide two tickets for Mentors (in unusual cases, three tickets for Mentors) and two for Cappies officials. The officials' tickets may or may not be used. 

You must hold tickets for Critics until five minutes prior to curtain. If you have a sellout, you can sell any tickets set aside for any Critic who arrives later than five minutes before curtain.

CRITIC DECORUM

Two Mentors (usually teachers) are assigned to every Cappies Show, and part of their role is to supervise Critics. We impress upon all Critics the need to be good guests. Almost always, they are. If you notice any behavior on the part of a Critic that doesn't seem right, please alert a Mentor. 

Before or after the show, the cast and crew of the performing school may not socialize with any Critic. Nor may Critics socialize with any other friends from the performing school, while at the school for the Cappies Show. 

Critics may not discuss any aspect of the performance within earshot of any member of the audience. If you notice this occurring, please alert the Mentors. And, of course, please do not ask (or allow any other parent to ask) any Critic for his or her opinion of the show. 

Please assist your Show Director in making sure that, during a Cappies Show, no one takes any flash photos. This should include a pre-show announcement, and usher enforcement of the rule if anyone takes a flash photo. This is not a Cappies rule -- just a strong suggestion. It is well-known to any theater director that flash photos can be very distracting to performers, causing them to break concentration and keeping them from doing their best onstage. Flashes can also interfere with the concentration of (and be annoying to) members of the audience -- including Critics. Video cameras can also distract performers and Critics, and you might consider only allowing them in locations where they do not affect the performers' concentration and the audience's view of the show.

CRITIC SAFETY

The safety of Critics is of paramount concern. The safety of Critics is of paramount concern. No Critics may be left alone, late at night, at an unfamiliar school. Under the rules, one Mentor is required to remain at a performing school until the last Critic has left for home. If you see a Critic left alone, waiting for a ride, with no Mentor in sight, please remain with that Critic until someone has arrived with a ride home. 

Helping Out with Cappies Reviews

You can help with Cappies reviews by using them for call attention to your school's theater program -- and by making sure everyone at your school keeps the reviews in perspective. 

All Critics who attend a show are required to submit a review. In nearly all Cappies programs, well over 90% and 95% of all Critics who attend a show submit reviews. Program officials will forward reviews of your school's Cappies Show directly to the Show Director, usually on the Sunday night or Monday after your show. Under the rules, subject to certain limitations, a Show Director must share those reviews with the cast and crew. The Show Director may, if he or she wishes, share some Cappies reviews with parents. 

It can be fun to use Cappies reviews for promotional purposes. You're welcome to quote any portion of any Cappies review, as long as you credit it to the Critic (and say that it's from a Cappies review). It's a good Booster task -- and a fun one -- to look through all the reviews with the eye of a "PR" person, looking for just the right quotes. You can then print those out, in big fonts, and paste them on the walls near the theater. If the school is performing a second weekend of shows, you can use them in ads. Make sure you check with your school's Show Director before doing this. 

You can help with reviews in another way. The spirit with which the reviews are received by a cast and crew can depend on the attitude you and other adults take toward the reviews. Please stress the positive, while keeping in mind that each review is one person's opinion, nothing more nor less. 

It is against the rules for any teacher, parent, or student from the performing school, to discuss any review (published or not) with a Critic or Mentor who attended a Cappies Show.

Attending Other Schools' Cappies Shows

One fun aspect (and goal) of the Cappies program is the sense of community it can create among teachers, parents, and students from schools throughout your area. 

You and other parents at your school may enjoy attending Cappies Shows at nearby schools. Parents of Critics may enjoy traveling to and attending the Cappies Shows the school's team is assigned to review. As you do, you'll be part of the event, part of the Cappies Show excitement, at that other school. In all likelihood, you'll get to know Boosters from other schools -- and, come Gala time, you may find yourself cheering and rooting for performers at those other schools. 

The more shows you (and other parents from your school) have a chance to see, the more meaning the Cappies Gala will have for you. Along the way, you may gain some useful pointers from other theater parents about enrichment activities, college programs, good places to buy dance shoes, and more.

Helping with Awards

If your Cappies program includes awards, the Critics will gather to vote online for "Cappie" nominations and awards, after the final shows have been reviewed. 

You can help the awards process by learning about how Critics vote for them, answering any questions parents might have, and encouraging everyone at your school to keep the awards in perspective. 

The Critics vote through a specially designed computer software, through which they give scores and points to individual candidates. No Critic sees all shows (or anything close to that), of course, and the voting system has been designed to account for that. 

The Cappies voting system has also been constructed to be totally evenhanded to all schools, regardless of the size of their own Critics Team or the number of Critics who attended their own Cappies Show, to identify (and, hence, discourage) "gaming" or strategic voting by individual Critics or teams, and to provide Cappies officials with clear and fully auditable results. 

The Critics vote through a combination of evaluation scores, nomination and award points, and tie-breaks. A complete description of the Cappies voting system is in the rules, and a summary can be read on the Cappies web site, on the "Rules & Forms" page. 

The non-performing categories include sound, lighting, make-up, costumes, sets, props & effects, stage crew, choreography, orchestra, and creativity (which includes student directing, composing, playwrighting, lyric-writing, and musicianship). 

The performing categories include ensemble in a play, ensemble in a musical, featured actor and actress, male and female dancer, male and female vocalist -- and comic, supporting, and lead actors and actresses for plays and musicals. 

There are four overall school awards: song, play, and musical. 

Depending on the Cappies program, there can be from three to five Critics' awards, including Critics Team, and individual Critic awards determined by gender or year in school. 

Nominations are announced within one to two days after the voting. Most Cappies programs post the nominations online. Awards are announced at the Cappies Gala. 

A Show Director may name up to four students as Cappie Commendees. 

When nominations and awards are announced, and again at the Gala when awards are presented, you and every teacher and student at your school should realize that, per the cliché, the chips fall where they may. Your school may receive several nominations, or not many. (In large programs, some schools receive no nominations.) At a Gala, your students may win the awards for which they're nominated, or not. If they do, kudos to everybody. If not, hooray for whoever won, and it's on to summer (and next year). 

No voting system is perfect, of course -- and any outcome merely reflects the viewpoint of the judges, not any absolute truth -- but great care is taken by program officials to make sure Cappies voting meets very high standards of fairness and integrity. If your students are disappointed in the results, it is important that all adults, including parent Boosters, not give the students any reason to feel that the voting was in any way unfair or illegitimate. 

If any person wishes to appeal any voting outcome, he or she may do so by contacting your Program Director. This will result in a careful audit of the results by the Steering Committee, with the outcome of that audit reviewed by the Cappies Governing Board. The decision of the Governing Board will be final. Under the rules, no one -- including a person appealing a voting outcome -- may see the raw voting data. 

You may be able to help your school by picking up award items for your Commendees and Nominees, and by helping with publicity. 

Also, the Program Director might ask you to join Boosters from other schools to raise the funds necessary to enable your program to purchase high-quality award items for Commendees, Nominees, and Cappie winners.

Helping with the Cappies Gala

If your Cappies program has awards, the year will end with an awards ceremony, which may or may not be identified as a Cappies Gala. 

A program may choose to distribute awards without a Gala, at a simple ceremony. Or a program may choose to present a Cappies Gala is a formal Tonys-style event that combines awards with select student performances. Some Cappies Galas are at high schools, and others are at high-profile theater venues. 

If your program is planning a Cappies Gala, the Program Director may invite students from your school to perform at it. In small programs, all schools may be invited to perform a song or sketch from a Cappies Show. In large programs, the invitation may only go to those nominated in the Song, Play, and Musical categories. 

Depending on your Cappies program, the Program Director may issue a request for students who may wish to audition for the select Gala student cast of vocalists, dancers, and musicians. You might wish to assist your school's Show Director in spreading word to students about any such opportunities. 

Prior to a Cappies Gala, tickets will be made available for your school. The number of available tickets, per school, will depend on the size of your Cappies program and the size of the Gala venue. You may wish to assist your school's Cappies Advisor and Show Director with ticket purchases, pick-ups, and distributions. 

Understandably, the size of each school's Gala ticket request may depend to some degree on the number of nominations that school has received, and on any invitation for students from that school to perform at the Gala. Here again, teachers and parents can greatly influence student decisions about whether to attend a Cappies Gala, even if some disappointment is felt about a school's list of nominations. It helps if all schools be well-represented in the Gala audience, to cheer for students from other schools, and to celebrate all the fine shows in the year recently concluded.

Helping with Publicity and Fund-Raising

As is often the case, two of the ways parent Boosters can help the Cappies is through publicity and fund-raising. 

As Cappies Booster for your school, you can help the Program Director get the greatest possible number of Cappies reviews published for your school's Cappies Show. If there is a small newspaper serving your school's region, please make sure the Program Director knows of it. Perhaps you can help persuade that newspaper's editor to publish Cappies reviews. If a newspaper persists in refusing to publish Cappies reviews, you might consider asking for a meeting with the publisher to ask why this is the case. 

For those newspapers that are participating in the Cappies, it is always helpful to provide them with good JPG photos of the show (perhaps of dress rehearsals). 

The Program Director may ask your school to assist in regional publicity campaigns, for the Cappies or high school theater in general. If so, please work with your school's Show Director (and, perhaps, Critics) in providing what the Program Director may request. 

In the fund-raising realm, the main goal for your own school should be to raise the small funds that may be required to host the Critics at your Cappies Show. You may also want to raise funds to pay for Cappies Gala tickets for any students at your school who may not be able to afford them. 

If any student at your school is invited to participate in Cappies International Theater, as a result of winning a top Cappie award (or other honor), you may wish to help that student cover the costs of participating, including transportation. 

In addition, you may wish to join with Cappies Boosters from other schools to raise funds to pay for high-quality award items for the Commendees, Nominees, and Cappie winners throughout your program. (See the rules about those items.) Each program can decide whether to have simple, inexpensive award items, or to have something more. This choice may hinge on the ability of Boosters to raise the necessary funds. 

If your Cappies program is planning a Cappies Gala in a high-profile venue, that will be more expensive than holding it at a high school. If so, the Program Director may call upon Boosters to help with fund-raising to cover those costs, as well.

Receiving Emails

The Cappies is a web-based organization, with a web site (www.cappies.com) and "CIS," the password-accessible Cappies Information Services. Nearly all the email you'll receive from the Cappies will come via CIS Always, please read the Cappies emails you receive. If an email asks for a response, or some action by you, please respond, or take that action, as soon as you reasonably can. 

Make sure your "spam-guard" does not block out emails from any Cappies address. If you do not know how to do this, please ask your Lead Critic (or another student) to help you.

Making Comments and Asking Questions

If you change your email address, or any of your phone numbers, during the year, please use CIS to insert the change in the Cappies database. 

If you have any questions or comments, as you read this or anytime thereafter, please send an email to your Program Director via CIS 

REVIEW WRITING

These materials are provided to Critics, in their Critic Binders. They are also provided to you, for reference, so you can help oversee their work in writing reviews. 

You may wish to use the Review Writing Exercise as a training activity for your Critics Team, before their first assigned Cappies Show. 

Cappies reviews are real theater reviews.

When Critics prepare them, they should:

  • Meet the deadline.
  • Do the best writing they can.
  • Be accurate and honest.
  • Follow the rules on criticism.
  • Spell names correctly.


The following materials are intended to help them as writers:

WRITING TIPS
SEVEN PARAGRAPH PLAN
MAKING CRITICISMS
BEING FAIR AND ACCURATE
SAMPLE REVIEWS
REVIEW WRITING EXERCISE
WRITING TIPS
The Cappies is not only a theater program. It's all about writing, too. Critics have to write quickly and well, use words efficiently, and edit their own writing -- under tight deadlines.
The following are some specific tips you to use when you write reviews, and some general tips for you to use when writing about anything and everything.

TIPS FOR WRITING CAPPIES REVIEWS

  1. Start by writing down a one-sentence description of your overall commentary of the show. Think of it as the last sentence of your review. Doing that first will help focus your thinking.
  2. Next, write a strong, interesting opening sentence that will command the reader's attention and set the stage for a review that will culminate in that last sentence you just wrote.
  3. Fill out the first and last paragraphs. (See the "Seven Paragraph Plan" for pointers here.) Try not to make those paragraphs longer than three long sentences or four short ones.
  4. For your first two or three reviews, closely follow the Seven Paragraph Plan. Once you get comfortable with review writing, you'll probably find creative ways of varying from that structure. If so, fine.
  5. Craft a good topic sentence to start every paragraph -- and limit paragraphs to four sentences.
  6. Use the past tense. Nearly always, a show has closed by the time a Cappies review is published. However, you may wish to describe the story in the present tense. Except for that, be careful not to go back and forth from past to present tense.
  7. Never put yourself in the review (I, we, this critic). That's actually a "nearly never" suggestion, because there may be the odd circumstance where it might make sense for a Critic to do that -- but wait until you've written several reviews.
  8. Avoid words that declare themselves to be praise (commendable, praiseworthy) or criticism (unfortunate, detracted, marred, plagued). Instead, describe specifically what was good or what the problem actually was.
  9. Never use double-negatives (which that sentence was, if you look closely). Don't say that something "did not disappoint." Say that it delighted.
  10. Use descriptions that are original and specific. Avoid theater clichés, like "stole the show," "brought the house down," "had the audience rolling in the aisles," or even "had great chemistry."
  11. You may find it helpful to use spell-check or grammar-check. Even good writers use them to find typos. To do that, write your review on your word processing program. When you're done, copy it with a right mouse-click or keystroke command, and then paste it onto the review box on CIS Remember, though, that spell-check misses quite a few misspellings (like "there" where you mean "their").
  12. Make sure your review looks good when the Mentors read it. On CIS, remember these key formatting rules: (1) Don't indent paragraphs. (2) Don't hit the "return" bar at the end of each line. (3) Put a space between each paragraph. (4) Don't include your name.


GENERAL WRITING TIPS

  1. Learn to keyboard as quickly, correctly, and comfortably as you can. Your goal should be to type as quickly as you speak in normal conversation. (This could be the single most important skill for a writer.)
  2. Be comfortable when writing, with good sitting posture, and be careful of repetitive stress injuries. Sit in a good chair, with wrist guards and a hand-friendly mouse. Carpal tunnel is no joke.
  3. Focus when you write. Multi-tasking is fine for some kinds of work, but not for this. If you listen to music, it should be wordless.
  4. Outline before you start writing -- even if informally, through a "brain dump" that you can sort and use as a template for whatever you are writing.
  5. Work on the start and end of a piece (in either order), and then fill in the middle.
  6. Learn how to edit your own work -- and how to listen to suggestions from others.
  7. Make sure your writing sounds good when read aloud. Alternate between short and long sentences, and sentences with different structures.
  8. Try to "boil down" your writing to eliminate redundancy, "throat clearing," and other fluff. Look at each sentence, and see if you can cut it by a third or half and still say the same thing, in more concentrated prose. Do that through a whole piece that you've written, and you'll be surprised how much sharper it will read.
  9. Focus on nouns and verbs ahead of adjectives and adverbs -- and use active (not passive) voice with your verbs.
  10. Find a nice mix between short, blunt words (the Anglo-Saxon kind) and the longer, mellifluous (Latinate) ones. Some of both makes for the best style.
  11. Keep sentences clear, not convoluted, with active subject nouns close enough to the main verbs so your reader won't get lost in mid-sentence.
  12. Keep to a reasonable minimum your use of linking verbs (is, are, was, were), especially when used with flavorless nouns (there, that, this, it).
  13. Find and use flavorful words, but make sure they say exactly what you mean. Use a thesaurus and dictionary, but be careful not to misuse words you've never used before.
  14. Use spell-check and grammar-check, but realize the limits of both. Be as good a natural speller and grammarian as you can.
  15. Use punctuation smartly, to help make your prose more readable. Try not to use colons or semi-colons. They slow readers down. Instead, use short sentences -- or dashes, which are always good for suggesting a pause, followed by a tag line. Use commas generously, giving readers cues for where to pause or change vocal direction.
  16. Make sure your final product looks great, in readable layouts and fonts. Learn how to use all the options on your writing program. Desk-top publishing is a terrific tool, so take advantage of it.
  17. Become skilled on how to write in different dimensions, levels of detail, and voices -- for example, how to write a footnoted research paper, a speech, a news article, an executive summary, a sound bite, or even just a title, all about the exact same subject.
  18. Be adaptable in your writing style. To learn to do this, practice retooling your message around various specific styles. For example, find a paragraph somewhere, and try to write it in the styles of your four favorite novelists.
  19. Develop your own style. Good writers do that too, over time.
  20. Get that "free lance" attitude. To be a good writer, you have to have something to say. Observe things carefully, and analyze them in new ways.
  21. Take creative chances. The best writers try to do unusual (even hard) things, succeeding sometimes and failing other times. Professional writing is not like school, where students are inclined to avoid mistakes and often too inclined to play it safe.
  22. Improve your spoken conversational style. Speak in complete sentences, with correct grammar and good word choices. When you talk, try not to use "word weeds" (like, you know, I mean). Over time, this will improve your writing.
  23. Find ways of making writing fun -- and purposeful. When you have an idea, or feel strongly about something you've read or seen, write it down. Send it to a local newspaper. They might publish it. You never know.…

Seven Paragraph Plan
I'm Jason Kobielus, alias J. Kobi, and I was a Cappie Critic for three years. I remember back when I was just getting started, how I wondered how to write a review. They told me about a Seven Paragraph Plan. It's not a rule, and you don't need to follow it, but it's a useful way to write a review of about the right length, covering all the most important aspects of a show. Based on my own experience, I encourage you to write your first review or two this way, and then maybe use this as an outline for reviews you do after that.
Here's what to do:
Paragraph 1: Lead
Two types of leads can really catch a reader's attention.
Number out: the zinger. The zinger is a catchy, one-sentence grabber that plays off the production or content of the script. This type of lead has tons of room for creativity; however, it must be extremely clear and extremely concise (don't go above one sentence).
Nikki's parents ran away, Luis's hooked on cocaine, Jackie's a child prostitute -- and you thought your neighborhood had issues! Last weekend, Pauly Shore High School paid tribute to the abandoned children of America's ghettos in their production of "Runaways."
And number two: the dramatic describer. If a show has a very captivating opening moment, or one that is perhaps definitive of the play on-hand (i.e. the ballet fight-dancing which opens West Side Story), the dramatic describer works well. This is oftentimes good for plays of a more serious content.
A procession of silhouetted actors filed listlessly through the auditorium, as projectors and television screens displayed slide after slide of familiar images – protesters, candlelight vigils, men in orange jumpsuits and the voices of newscasters repeating the name "Matthew Shepard." So began Harold & Kumar High School's recent production of "The Laramie Project"…
Whatever you choose, make sure it's clear, concise, correct, and grabs the eye.
Paragraph 2: The Story
Before detailing into the plot of the play, add a tidbit about the history of the show. When was the play written? How long was it on Broadway? Has it won any notable awards? If the play, performing school, or writers/composers/lyricists have not been mentioned before or in this section, do so.
For the story synopsis, write two or three well-crafted sentences that covers the major plot elements of the script (and only the major plot elements). Mention major characters, and key settings and timeframes as well as what happened in the plot. Keep audiences interested in the play/musical on-hand -- for example, use a cliffhanger to finish out a synopsis rather than cover every major plot element until the final curtain. Perhaps with more weighty shows, finish off the synopsis by mentioning some of the major themes in the production.
Paragraph 3: The Overall Production
Make some broad observations here. What production element anchored the show? An inventive or unusual concept? The cast's energy? The choreography? Technical elements or effects? A specific actor or ensemble? Write two or three very considered sentences about this, but only if you considered the show to be a success.
Quentin Tarantino High school's production was anchored by the exceptional talent and versatility of the ensemble. Every member of the 38-person cast helped convey the riveting truth behind the intricate script, making each of the characters clear-cut, complex, and captivating.
If the show fell short in key areas, describe it without praising it too much. Mentors will see right through any great proclamations about a show's success if it wasn't that good. If there were major problems, don't put them here. Include them further down, or merge them with another paragraph.
Paragraph 4: The Leads
There are three options for writing about leads: (1) Mention each of them separately (if there are more than one), (2) Combine mentions (if in your opinion their performances were of equal standing), or (3) Not mention them at all. If you feel you should criticize the leads -- and if they were weak, you should -- it's best not to do it here, where it would be totally obvious who you're criticizing, but later in the review, where you can state in a more indirect manner. Everybody who saw the show may realize you're criticizing the leads, but it's a little easier for performers to take that way. Remember not just to say something was good. Say how and why it was good.
Paragraph 5: THE Supporting Characters and Ensemble
Haven't gotten to the featured actors yet? Really liked that vocalist, dancer, or featured performer? What about an ensemble you really enjoyed? Or that great choreography? This section has the most freedom concerning your ability to write about specific performance elements you enjoyed. Criticisms about all aspects of performance -- ensembles, minor characters, and leads -- are appropriate here. Do not hesitate to criticize performers, when warranted, but justify all criticisms with specific and persuasive examples.
Paragraph 6: Tech
Sets. Costumes. Lights. Sound. Props and Effects. Stage Crew. Makeup. Pick two or three technical elements which were most integral in the success (or problems) of the production, describe their major facets (for example, what costumes were most notable), and explain why they was successful (or problematic). Realize that tech aspects can be easy or hard in any given show. It's a lot harder to do sound for a full-scale musical than for a black-box play, and your words of praise or criticism should reflect this. Try not to criticize the techies more than the performers unless you feel that is justified.

Paragraph 7: Closer
Like your lead, there are many different styles of closers, some more appropriate for different types of shows/productions than others. Some options to consider: if the emotional content of the script was particularly difficult, commend the performing school on a successful production; if the production has social, political, or emotional implications attached to it, mention those. Using references to the show (i.e. puns) can be extremely helpful here. Try to write a punchy "squib" lines, a strong "sound bite" phrase of the kind you often see quoted in newspaper ads for shows. Have fun with your closer, but make sure you don't go over the top.
Two rules: (1) Any negative criticism mentioned here should be combined and overshadowed by a positive criticism, and avoid all criticism about specific elements of the show. (2) Try to measure your praise here, using "rave" language only for rave-worthy shows, and using only those words that actually do describe what you saw on stage.
FINAL TIPS
This seven-paragraph format is just a guideline, and it's fine to vary the structure of your review, especially if you "suit your review to the show," so to speak. As you become experienced at this, you should try to make your reviews special, enjoyable, and (perhaps) a useful learning experience for each cast and crew about whom you write.
Use lots of rich nouns and verbs, and refrain from using extraneous adjectives and adverbs. They make the review sound phony.
Don't say how the audience felt, because you don't know -- but it's fine to say what the audience actually did.
Oh, and spell everybody's names correctly -- performer names, character names, and the names of the playwright and composer. The best single way not to get your review selected for publication is to spell even one name wrong.
Good luck!

Jason Kobielus
Critic Alumnus, Thomas Edison High School, Class of 2005
Cappies of the National Capital Area
MakING Criticisms
While a core purpose of the Cappies is to promote and celebrate high school theater, the critical reviews must have integrity, fairness, and accuracy. Not every show can or should receive a rave review. Most shows have aspects that could have been better -- and, therefore, most reviews should include some criticism.
In selecting reviews for publication, Mentors are encouraged to select the best written, fair and accurate description of what actually happened on stage. The reviews they select are not necessarily the most favorable reviews.
When making criticisms, however, you realize that you are not evaluating experienced professionals, but students who are learning about theater arts. This may be the first time they have ever been in a reviewed show.
Don't criticize the playwright or composer. Focus on the production itself.
Choose your words carefully. Be brief. With criticisms in Cappies reviews, a brief phrase, or even just a word or two, can make your point. State your criticism succinctly, and then move on.
Realize that Cappies reviews are often read very closely by the director, cast, and crew. As you write them, imagine the performing company reading them. If you attended the school whose show you reviewed, the cast and crew would probably be your friends. Think of them that way. State criticisms in the way you would state them to a friend.
The best place to state a criticism is near the end of a review, but not in the last paragraph. It's often good to make them near the end of a paragraph, but not in the last clause.
Try to state a criticism in a positive, constructive context. As in: Yes, there was this problem, but the cast overcame it in such-and-such a way. Or: I noticed this flaw, but it did not detract from these other positives.
Only work by students may be criticized (or praised). If the show includes performers younger than high school age, please either praise them or say nothing at all about them.
At times, the most appropriate way to state a criticism can be to say nothing at all. If you say nothing about the lead performers but broadly praise minor characters, that may be all you need to do to make your point.


BEING FAIR AND ACCURATE
When selecting reviews for publication, Mentors are asked give equal weight to:

  1. Accuracy and fairness, with honest descriptions of what actually happened on stage, proportionate praise and criticism within the range of fair comment, and solid analysis of theater;
  2. Quality of writing, with an engaging and creative style, of interest to readers who did not see the Cappies Show, with a succinct background of the play, and a brief synopsis of the story; and
  3. Correct spelling of all cast, crew, character, and other names.


(Mentors may also decide not to select any reviews marked as late -- so be sure to get your review in on time, if you want it to be considered for publication.)
Remember: The Mentors saw the same show you did. You should only write rave reviews for rave-worthy shows. Reviews for shows of different caliber should reflect those differences. At the same time, even the weakest of shows is being performed by high school students, and the purpose of reviewing their show is to provide a learning experience, not to demean anyone.
Critics often report that it is easier to write a review of an outstanding show than a disappointing one. Among those in between -- the majority of shows -- the gradations may seem difficult to express.
We asked two Critics to do this, for a fictitious South Pacific and Hamlet. The next several pages show what they wrote. The Critics are Jason Kobielus (Edison High School, NCA Cappies) and Emily Woodhouse (River Hill High School, Baltimore Cappies).
What they did with South Pacific and Hamlet illustrates how Cappies reviews can be written in a creative, lively, and interesting manner, how they can state criticisms within the rules, while at the same time accurately reflecting the difference among shows of vastly different quality.
In each of these two sets of four reviews, note the slightly varying treatment of the same show elements, in corresponding paragraphs. Add up those slight variations -- from the measured praise to the extent of criticism -- and the overall tone of each review diverges significantly from the others. When read in full, each review reflects the score deserved by the show. Each is written well enough to be deserving of being selected for publication, by Mentors who might find the words of praise and criticism to be accurately stated.

SOUTH PACIFIC: Review of a musical worthy of an 8 or 9
Use a paradise location to describe the most un-paradisiacal of situations, and you've got South Pacific, an epic tale of love, prejudice, and palm trees performed brilliantly last weekend by Little Valley High School. This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical won nine Tonys in 1950, and ran for over 2000 performances on Broadway before hitting the screen in 1958.
On a tropical island during World War II, love blossoms between Navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Mary Johnson), a self-described "hick" from Arkansas, and expatriate French planter Emile de Becque (Joe Smith). Meanwhile, recent Princeton graduate Lt. Joe Cable (Brad Williams) falls head-over-heels for Liat (Michelle Robinson), a soft-spoken Tonkinese girl whose mother Bloody Mary (Jane Thomas) is more than happy to wed her off.
The themes of prejudice, inequality, and the inhumanity of war that finish off this Pulitzer-prize winning musical were skillfully brought to life by a vibrant cast that showed real understanding of every nuance of the story.
Little Valley's production was buoyed by the incredible energy of the entire ensemble. Poignant duets were lined with perfect sadness and melancholy, while big ensemble numbers projected a robust excitement. Every line was delivered with just the right amount of starch or emotion, as the tightly focused cast made full use of every exploitable element, whether a punch line or dance line, a hope or a fear.
Mary Johnson clocked in with an outstanding performance as 'cockeyed optimist' Nellie Forbush. Between joking around with the Seabees, rehearsing with fellow nurses for the Thanksgiving show, or trying to conquer her Arkansas prejudices, Johnson styled a well-rounded character while revealing the poise and grace of a leading lady throughout.
As Emile de Becque, Joe Johnson combined the air of an elderly gentlemen with a classic seductive Frenchmen in a dignified, resilient performance. On duets like "Twin Soliloquies," Johnson's operatic soprano and Smith's tenor combined for an enchanting tone.
With a mix of playful mock and big-boned jolliness, Jane Thomas provided a full-fledged comic foil as Bloody Mary, with entrances that made audiences roar.
Matt Baker's Luther Billis and his ruffian crew of Seabees added their own puckish twist to the script's comic relief. "There's Nothing Like a Dame" has a bombastic chipper to it seemingly unwritten in the script; while Baker's solo performance on "Honey Bun" drew huge laughs with his stunning mastery of a jiggling coconut bra. Throughout the cast, line articulation was outstanding, and vocalists showed superb range and styling with very difficult music. Every song conveyed exactly the attitude required for the character and story.
Justin Bonner's stage crew kept the show running smoothly at all times. The sound was nearly flawless -- no small feat for a show with this many vocalists using microphones.
Among the many other superb technical aspects were Jill Benning's sets, with their use of cool blue backdrops and luscious green flora to capture the show's tropical atmosphere, and Martha Cunningham's costumes, a simple but effective mix of sailor suits, military uniforms, and traditional Asian frocks.
For an exciting production with near-professional polish, Little Valley deserves many rounds of applause, as this "enchanted evening" proved nothing short of spectacular.

SOUTH PACIFIC: Review of a musical worthy of a 6 or 7
Use a paradise location to describe the most un-paradisiacal of situations, and you've got South Pacific, an epic tale of love, prejudice, and palm trees performed with aplomb last weekend by Little Valley High School. This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical won nine Tonys in 1950, and ran for over 2000 performances on Broadway before hitting the silver screen in 1958.
On a tropical island during World War II, love blossoms between Navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Mary Johnson), a self-described "hick" from Arkansas, and expatriate French planter Emile de Becque (Joe Smith). Meanwhile, recent Princeton graduate Lt. Joe Cable (Brad Williams) falls head-over-heels for Liat (Michelle Robinson), a soft-spoken Tonkinese girl whose mother Bloody Mary (Jane Thomas) is more than happy to wed her off.
The themes of prejudice, inequality, and the inhumanity of war in this Pulitzer-prize winning musical were ably brought to life by an excellent cast that interpreted the story very persuasively.
Mary Johnson gave an excellent performance as 'cockeyed optimist' Nellie Forbush. Between joking around with the Seabees, rehearsing with fellow nurses for the Thanksgiving show, or trying to conquer her Arkansas prejudices, Johnson created a well-rounded character while never losing the poise and grace of a leading lady. Opposite Johnson was Joe Smith as Emile de Becque. On duets like "Twin Soliloquies," Johnson's operatic soprano and Smith's crisp tenor combined for a pleasing medley.
With a mix of playful mock and big-boned jolliness, Jane Thomas crafted a full-fledged comic foil as Bloody Mary, evident in songs like the anthem-like "Bloody Mary" and the ticklish "Happy Talk." Additional comic relief was provided by Matt Baker as Seabee Luther Billis, who demonstrated incredible skill with a jiggling coconut bra on the amusing "Honey Bun."
The commitment and energy of the entire 41-person ensemble carried this production. The energy on big dance numbers like "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" more than make up for any other injustice. Swaggering sailor tunes like "There's Nothing Like a Dame" had a chipper air that seemed to come at least as much from the chumminess of the cast members as from Rodgers' libretto. While a few lines were hard to hear, the vocalists did fine work with some difficult music, and did very well in keeping their songs tightly in character.
Jill Benning's sets, with their use of cool blue backdrops and luscious green flora, effectively captured the show's tropical atmosphere -- as did Martha Cunningham's inventive costumes, a simple but effective mix of sailor suits, military uniforms, and traditional Asian frocks. Most scene changes were swiftly made. For a show with this many vocalists using mics, the sound was quite good. Even when small microphone problems arose, the cast and crew adjusted very skillfully and could be heard clearly.
Clocking in at three hours, "South Pacific" is truly a difficult production for a high school to tackle, but Little Valley turned in a very fine show.

SOUTH PACIFIC: Review of a musical worthy of a 4 or 5
Use a paradise location to describe the most un-paradisiacal of situations, and you've got South Pacific, an epic tale of love, prejudice, and palm trees performed solidly last weekend by Little Valley High School. This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical won nine Tonys in 1950, and ran for over 2000 performances on Broadway before hitting the silver screen in 1958.
On a tropical island during World War II, love blossoms between Navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Mary Johnson), a self-described "hick" from Arkansas, and expatriate French planter Emile de Becque (Joe Smith). Meanwhile, recent Princeton graduate Lt. Joe Cable (Brad Williams) falls head-over-heels for Liat (Michelle Robinson), a soft-spoken Tonkinese girl whose mother Bloody Mary (Jane Thomas) is more than happy to wed her off.
The themes of prejudice, inequality, and the inhumanity of war in this Pulitzer-prize winning musical came through nicely in this performance.
Mary Johnson was convincing as 'cockeyed optimist' Nellie Forbush. As her character's Arkansas prejudices resurfaced upon meeting Emile's Polynesian children, Johnson revealed a solid emotional grasp of her part. Johnson's roaring soprano and natural comfort on stage added to the intrigue of her performance.
With both cheekiness and tongue-in-cheek, Jane Thomas brought charm to the role of Bloody Mary. On songs like "Happy Talk," Thomas playfully mocks the lovers Cable and Liat without losing the grace or humor of her character.
The big-boned Seabee Luther Billis was enjoyably played by the comically-adroit Matt Baker. Though other numbers seemed to lack impact, Baker, along with his ruffian crew of sailors, used a grab-bag of swaggering, womanizing antics to make "There's Nothing Like a Dame" an audience favorite. Baker's solo performance on the cross-dressing "Honey Bun" was very amusing, as he demonstrated his mastery of a jiggling coconut bra. Articulation was a problem from time to time, and some vocalists strained to hit notes, but the performers always kept their characters clearly in focus.
Jill Benning's sets, with cool blue backdrops and luscious green flora, nicely captured the show's tropical atmosphere -- as did Martha Cunningham's costumes, a mix of sailor suits, military uniforms, and traditional Asian frocks. At times, major scene changes were heavily drawn out. Microphones were occasionally muffled, but the cast and crew never lost focus and adjusted well.
Clocking in at three hours, "South Pacific" is a challenging production for a high school to tackle, but Little Valley gave it a good effort, in a show well-received by the audience.

SOUTH PACIFIC: Review of a musical worthy of a 2 or 3
Use a paradise location to describe the most un-paradisiacal of situations, and you've got South Pacific, an epic tale of love, prejudice, and palm trees performed last weekend by Little Valley High School. This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical won nine Tonys in 1950, and ran for over 2000 performances on Broadway before hitting the silver screen in 1958.
On a tropical island during World War II, love blossoms between Navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Mary Johnson), a self-described "hick" from Arkansas, and expatriate French planter Emile de Becque (Joe Smith). Meanwhile, recent Princeton graduate Lt. Joe Cable (Brad Williams) falls head-over-heels for Liat (Michelle Robinson), a soft-spoken Tonkinese girl whose mother Bloody Mary (Jane Thomas) is more than happy to wed her off.
Themes of prejudice, inequality, and the inhumanity of war finish off this Pulitzer-prize winning musical.
Mary Johnson was believable as the 'cockeyed optimist' Nellie Forbush. As her character's Arkansas prejudices resurface upon meeting Emile's Polynesian children, Johnson revealed a solid understanding of her part. Johnson's enthusiasm and comfort on stage added to her performance.
As Bloody Mary, Jane Thomas brought an eye-opening, tongue-in-cheek charm to the production. On songs like "Happy Talk," where she playfully mocked the lovers Cable and Liat, Thomas displays enthusiasm and energy for the role.
The big-boned Seabee Luther Billis was nicely played by the comically-adroit Matt Baker. Though other ensemble numbers lacked crispness and energy, Baker, along with his ruffian crew of sailors, used a grab-bag of swaggering, womanizing antics to make "There's Nothing Like a Dame" an audience favorite. In his amusing solo performance on the cross-dressing "Honey Bun,"Baker demonstrated his jiggling coconut bra. Articulation was a problem in many scenes, and a number of songs had pitch errors, but the performers did nicely to stay in character.
Jill Benning's sets reflected the story's tropical atmosphere, with basic backdrops and suggestions of green flora around the stage frame. Martha Cunningham's costumes were simple but effective, using a mix of sailor suits, military uniforms, and traditional Asian frocks. Many scene changes were heavily drawn out, even when little amelioration was made to the set. Muffled and faulty microphones challenged the production throughout, but the cast and crew admirably trekked on through every difficulty.
Clocking in at three hours, "South Pacific" is truly a difficult production for a high school to tackle, but Little Valley took to the task admirably.

HAMLET: Review of a play worthy of an 8 or 9
The play's just the thing in Pleasant Valley High School's magnificent production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. A superbly talented group of actors tackled the Bard's most famous tragedy, detailing the tragic downfall of a power-hungry king, an adulterous queen, and a scheming, vengeful young man who dances around the edges of insanity, in a gripping performance of this famous play.
In the titular role of the brooding Prince of Denmark, John White's Hamlet told a tale of woe and grief as he plotted to avenge his father, the King of Denmark's, death and the ascension to the throne of his murderous uncle. White glided with ease through the multitude of monologues, from "I am mad but north-northwest" to the infamous "to be" speech. White seemed neither intimidated or burdened by his lines but spoke them with an eloquent and graceful manner, letting his emotions guide the way. His portrayal was a perfect combination of strength of mind and insanity.
Jane Green expertly played Hamlet's scorned love interest Ophelia. Green's Ophelia was perfectly frail and a strangled kind of passion seemed believable between the two young lovers. Green allowed her character a mounting confusion that was tangible, even haunting, to the audience, allowing them to see the reason for her untimely suicide.
Throughout the show, lead and ensemble performers artfully blended the comical with the insane and interacted with each other with terrific chemistry. All performers showed masterful comprehension of the underlying meanings and motivations of Shakespeare's artful phrasings.
Hamlet's plans to undo his uncle Claudius (Martin Robinson) were foiled by the stalwart Laertes (Thomas Jones). In the final fight between Hamlet and Laertes, White and Jones performed swordplay that was both beautifully choreographed and menacingly executed. Laertes and Hamlet's consecutive deaths were brought about by much clanging of steel as the actors believably confronted their bitter rivals to the very end.
The action took place on and around a solid, cold-looking model of the castle Elsinore. Designed by student Mike Li, it was a genuine representation of the uneasiness of living in the medieval times, having minimal comforts and decorations. A truly pragmatic and marvelously functional piece of scenery, it allowed action to occur on many levels of the castle floors.
Hamlet raises a vital question for all of us: How far would you go to justify the death of someone you loved? In this case, Pleasant Valley's adroit cast showed a spellbound audience that vengeance led to Hamlet's tragic ending. After witnessing a skill level and on-stage ease unusual for performers in a high school show, the audience brought the cast back for a standing ovation -- proving it is far better "to be" than "not to be."

HAMLET: Review of a play worthy of a 6 or 7
Dead, for a ducat, dead? The phrase "alive, for your ducat, alive" comes more to mind for Pleasant Valley High School's performance of Hamlet. The deeply tragic tale of the young Danish Prince was lively indeed with raucous swordfights, weeping speeches, poisoned goblets, murders, adultery, and the occasional famous monologue in a strong recent performance of this famous play.
Hamlet, Shakespeare's renowned tragedy, told the story of Prince Hamlet (John White), whose father the king was murdered by Hamlet's scheming uncle Claudius (Martin Robinson,) who also married Hamlet's mother Gertrude (Elizabeth Bowman.) Hamlet's feelings of betrayal lead him to fake his own insanity in a plot to overthrow Claudius.
As Hamlet, John White grasped the depths of this particular character with great artistry. White's way of telling the story through rich facial expressions made it easier for the audience to grasp his emotions. White's chemistry with the actresses in the show, particularly Jane Green as Ophelia, was particularly commendable. The tense love/hate relationship carried out between them showed Ophelia's obvious confusion and Hamlet's cruel harshness towards the lady. His complex range of emotions for his love interest (spanning from adoration to spite in a few scenes) changed rapidly but never left the audience hanging.
The supporting roles were wittily filled by Gus Smith and Jennifer Johnson, who played Hamlet's childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, (respectively.) Two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent by the King and Queen to "glean what afflicts him." However, while their characters were written small, Smith and Johnson managed to fill the stage with their wit and spirit. Their appearance onstage meant a lighter scene was about to take place. For all their energy, they made the perfect comic duo.
Throughout most of the show, lead and ensemble performers nicely blended the comical with the insane and interacted with each other with persuasive chemistry. On the whole, the performers gave solid interpretations of Shakespearean dialogue.
The play was largely well-choreographed, despite the lack of sword fighting at the end of Act V, which left four dead bodies after some rather weak combat. By comparison, Hamlet's stabbing of the court gossip Polonius (Anthony Little) was gory and thrilling.
Mike Li's set design of the castle Elsinore let audience's imaginations wander down the cold stone halls of medieval royalty. A truly pragmatic and functional piece of scenery, it allowed action to occur on many levels of the castle floors. The lighting, also a Li design, created a dappled atmosphere that evoked images of northern Denmark.
Hamlet raises a vital question for all of us: How far would you go to justify the death of someone you loved? In this case, Pleasant Valley's cast skillfully showed that vengeance led to Hamlet's tragic ending in this, the Bard's most difficult tragedy, proving it is far better "to be" than "not to be."

HAMLET: Review of a play worthy of a 4 or 5
Ah, Denmark's a prison. Pleasant Valley's Hamlet, the deeply tragic tale of the young Danish Prince, was filled with raucous swordfights, weeping speeches, poisoned goblets, murders, adultery, and the occasional famous monologue in a solid performance of this famous play.
Hamlet, Shakespeare's renowned tragedy, told the story of Prince Hamlet (John White), whose father the king was murdered by Hamlet's scheming uncle Claudius (Martin Robinson,) who also married Hamlet's mother Gertrude (Elizabeth Bowman.) Hamlet's feelings of betrayal lead him to fake his own insanity in a plot to overthrow Claudius.
John White played Hamlet with dexterity. The obvious lead in the show, White commanded the audience's attention whenever he appeared onstage. His eloquent deliverance of his several lengthy monologues was never dull, and his rich facial expressions helped give depth to his performance.
Although the chemistry between some characters was somewhat lacking in this performance, the connection between the prince and his childhood friends Rosencrantz (Gus Smith) and Guildenstern (Jennifer Johnson) was instantly pertained. White, Smith, and Johnson formed a kind of comic resistance to the maudlin events onstage by feeding off of each other's infectious energy ("On Fortune's cap, we are not the very button!" "Nay, nor the very soles of her shoes…"). Whenever the three of them appeared onstage, a laugh was sure to follow.
Through much of the show, the ensemble performers blended the comical with the insane and interacted with each other well. Several characters revealed a clear grasp of the meaning of Shakespeare's lines, while others recited them a bit too plainly.
The famous swordfight at the end of Act V, which leaves four dead bodies, was somewhat lacking in enthusiasm. Swords were occasionally dropped in the vigorous movement, but the actors persevered up to the point where Laertes (Thomas Jones) and Hamlet stabbed each other with poisoned blades.
Mike Li's set design gave a home to the royal family. The castle Elsinore was sparsely decorated, giving a bare feeling to the stage and allowing the actors most of the limelight. The same custom continued with the lighting design (also Li), casting only what was needed, mostly with a shaky spotlight on Hamlet.
Hamlet raises a vital question for all of us: how far would you go to justify the death of someone you loved? In this case, Pleasant Valley's cast capably showed that vengeance led to Hamlet's tragic ending. The cast performed the Bard's most difficult tragedy with much that shone brightly, and as the play goes, "the rest is silence."

HAMLET: Review of a play worthy of a 2 or 3
Frailty, thy name is Hamlet. Pleasant Valley High School's telling of the young Danish Prince's tragic tale was riffled with swordfights, speeches, poisoned goblets, murders, adultery, and the occasional famous monologue in their recent production of this famous play.
Hamlet, Shakespeare's renowned tragedy, told the story of Prince Hamlet (John White), whose father the king was murdered by Hamlet's scheming uncle Claudius (Martin Robinson,) who also married Hamlet's mother Gertrude (Elizabeth Bowman.) Hamlet's feelings of betrayal lead him to fake his own insanity in a plot to overthrow Claudius.
John White tackled the complex role of Hamlet with a grasping understanding, and his several lengthy monologues were delivered with some eloquence and smoothness. White's facial expressions allowed the audience the glimpse a portion of the inner depth behind his character's "insanity."
Although the chemistry between some of the principal players was somewhat lacking in this performance, the connection between the prince and his childhood friends Rosencrantz (Gus Smith) and Guildenstern (Jennifer Johnson) was delivered quite plausibly. White, Smith, and Johnson formed a kind of comic resistance to the maudlin events onstage by feeding off of each other's infectious energy ("On Fortune's cap, we are not the very button!"), bringing life to the show on several occasions.
In key scenes, some members of the ensemble blended the comical with the insane and did persuasive work with small characters. Several performers revealed a clear grasp of the meaning of Shakespeare's lines, while others recited them a bit too plainly.
The famous swordfight at the end of Act V, which leaves four dead bodies, was lacking in enthusiasm and plausibility. Swords were dropped, and lighting cues missed, in the vigorous movement, but the actors persevered up to the point where Laertes (Thomas Jones) and Hamlet stabbed each other with poisoned blades.
The performance had shaky aspects throughout, including some breaks in character and some unclear grasp of the meaning of the complex Shakespearean language. Some performer difficulties may have reflected a slight dilemma with the set. The apparent unsteadiness of one of the walls caused a few breaks in concentration and fearful moments for everyone's safety. The lighting design cast only what was needed, mostly with a spotlight on Hamlet that was softer than some scenes could have used.
Hamlet raises a vital question for all of us: How far would you go to justify the death of someone you loved? In this case, Pleasant Valley's cast showed that vengeance led to Hamlet's tragic ending. The actors fought to the very end, showing it was "nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," indeed.

SAMPLE REVIEWS

The following five reviews were written by Cappie Winning Critics in five different programs. All five of these reviews were selected by Mentors and published in major newspapers. Notice how some followed the seven paragraph plan, while others varied slightly from it. Notice the praise and criticism, and the overall tone of each. Try to imagine how good each of the shows was, based on the review.

SAMPLE #1: Review of Ah, Wilderness!
A young, idealistic man in love, his patient and understanding father, a grand ol' booze-hound of an uncle, and an unforgettable story of the love which leads them through the untamed wilds of life… such was Atholton High School's jovial production of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!
It is July 4th, 1906, when young and old come together to celebrate their independence (often from each other) and the Miller family is almost happy. Richard Miller, lost in the prose of the new, "cutting-edge" authors, uses their words to express his love to his girlfriend, Muriel McComber. Discovering the arduous poems Richard has written, Mr. McComber terminates the relationship. Angry and wounded, Richard goes off in search of "life", which takes the form of a painted harlot and a good, stiff drink. What happens to the youth as he discovers the truth about life and love is the subject of Atholton's endearing production.
An engaging group of lead performers gives energy to the show. As Richard, David Calder showcased not only the fierce spirit of rebellion inherent in all teenagers, but also the uncertainty of teetering on the threshold of adulthood. Peyton Johns balanced Nat Miller's roles of doting father and strong patriarch gracefully. His final confrontation with Richard at the end of the play was brilliant, as father and son gave each other a new lease on life. As the "reformed drunk", Uncle Sid, Evan Sanderson was hilarious, especially in his relationship with Aunt Lily, played with silent intensity by Kristin Servary.
As Dave McComber, Robert Grimm's austere appearance and conservative monotone garnered laughter during his first entrance.
Bright lighting and polished sets accented the crisp costumes of the actors. While a few scene changes were too visible, the stage crew moved quickly and efficiently. The sound system was a little soft, which the performers usually overcame with strong vocal projection.
With quality performances, wonderful interactions, Atholton High School's Ah, Wilderness! took O'Neill's clever story and served up a lighthearted romp through life's little struggles.

Megan Jeffrey
River Hill High School
Baltimore Cappies
This review was published in The Baltimore Sun. 


SAMPLE #2: Review of A Piece of My Heart
The horrors of Vietnam are quickly fading into history. Young people today have no vivid memories of lost loved ones, and it is difficult to imagine America at a time of such crisis. But the atrocity of war came to chilling life on the stage at St. Ursula Academy's recent production of A Piece of My Heart by Shirley Lauro.  The play chronicled the experiences of six women who each went into the war zone for different reasons and came out with memories that haunted them long after coming home. Dealing with the pain, confusion and even the love that was part of "the 'Nam" could be very difficult to handle, but the performers created characters that pulled the audience into their lives. Sissy (Rebecca Whatley) is a sweet girl, innocent of the horrors she will face when she stepped off the plane and signs up for field hospital duty. With a simple, traumatized glance, Whatley revealed the agony Sissy felt as she nursed mutilated soldiers. Whatley's performance contained the power and raw emotion of a woman who discovers what war is really like. Whitney (Allison Aiken) is a highly educated boarding school teacher who goes into Vietnam to work for the Red Cross and to find a little adventure. Aiken's portrayal of the sarcastic, bitter Whitney was brilliantly executed. With a simple toss of the head or sip of liquor, there was no doubt of the true feelings of the character. The show was comprised of monologues that flowed into dialogue with other characters and into the action during the war. The characters that entered the lives of the featured woman were portrayed by an ensemble which found specific actions and tones to differentiate between the numerous roles they conveyed. The energy of the entire cast charged the tension of the flashbacks and the frantic confusion of a hospital overwhelmed with victims of war.The set was simple and was used to illustrate the simple power of the stories being told by the characters. All props (accumulated by Claudia Feldhaus) and costumes (designed by Maria Reupert) were accurate to the time period and provided the perfect accompaniment to the stories being told.The experiences of the women in Vietnam may be far removed from the lives of the performers in this play, but each actor created characters that seemed to speak from these traumatic experiences. As the lights faded, the ensemble stared up at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, a powerful testament to the courage and strength of the women who gave everything for their country.

Matt Borths
St. Xavier High School
Cappies of Greater Cincinnati 
This review was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.


SAMPLE #3: Review of Standing on My Knees
How does it feel to be stripped of your identity in order to cure a disease?  Are you really winning if you are losing the one thing that makes you who you are?  Plantation High School's presentation of Standing on My Knees, by John Olive, sets out to answer these questions. This intense drama depicted the touching story of Catherine, a schizophrenic young poet who is attempting to cope with her disease. The medication her doctor throws at her hinders her ability to write, which she feels to be the only thing that makes her life unique and meaningful. Katie Gemignani starred as Catherine, the passionate, yet unstable protagonist.  Gemignani flourished in an immensely difficult role.  She truly captured the sweet innocence of the character and admirably displayed the deterioration of the character into utter disarray.  Opposite Gemignani was Marco Zeno as Robert, her nerdy, yet charming love interest. Zeno did an excellent job illustrating his character's transformation from timid and lovable to frustrated and overwhelmed. The supporting cast consisted of Rachel Bahman as Catherine's best friend and boss, Alice, and L'Treasure Lunan as Joanne, the psychiatrist. Bahman brought a kooky, almost neurotic sense to her character that added a bit of comic relief to the emotional performance.  Lunan soothingly spit out monotonous clichés, convincingly maintaining the stereotypical nature the character is meant to possess. The set, though simple, did the show justice.  Catherine's apartment, placed on a steep angle, creatively demonstrated her mental instability. Also intriguing was the use of musical underscoring to effectively emphasize the emotions depicted on stage.  The lighting, though a bit dim on occasion, was sufficient and performed with nearly flawless execution. At times, some of the lines were rushed, reducing the credibility of the dialogue.  In addition, there were moments when the music was played too loudly, creating a distraction.  Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night, however, was the brilliant cover-up by Gemignani and Zeno after having difficulty opening a bottle of wine.  The two were able to maintain the flow of the performance, making it appear as if nothing went wrong.
Simply put, this was not your average high school material.  The piece was intense and difficult, and the cast did a sensational job in handling such a mature subject.  Profound and thought-provoking, Plantation High School's production of Standing on My Knees was truly noteworthy and commendable.
Bryan Jones
Piper High School
South Florida Cappies
This review was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

SAMPLE #4: Review of The Music Man
Smiling faces, colorful costumes, beautiful voices singing in perfect harmony, a vibrant orchestra and marching band. … Does this sound like a great Fourth of July celebration? Well, not quite! It's Northwood High School's production of Meredith Wilson's The Music Man.
This classic American musical is the story of the small and "stubborn" town of River City, Iowa in 1912 and its extraordinary visitor, Harold Hill, a man of many identities. Harold comes to the town to con the townspeople out of their money with his phony "boy's band." In the process, Harold finds himself falling in love with the town's uptight librarian, Marian Paroo, and River City itself.
Some very talented students brought this show's variety of lovable characters to life. Memorable performances included Tyler Alessi, who brought an endearing charm to Harold Hill's tricky character, and the comedic duo of Grant Scavello and Natalie Larriva as Mayor and Mrs. Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Erika Nafius as Mrs. Paroo showed a consistently impressive Irish accent, while Kiersten Regele's dance skills and smiling face added to the innocence of the Zaneeta Shinn character.
Another bright spot was the Barbershop Quartet, including Northwood students Robert Webb, Christopher Figueroa, Charley Cullen, and Eric Weigan (guest artist). Last but not least, Andrea Borden brought energy and charisma to Hill's love interest, librarian Marian Paroo.
The cast as a whole was focused and lively, while The River City Teens tackled amusing choreography with an air of excitement. The Residents of River City humorously captured the small town's "chip on the shoulder" attitude. The energy of the cast started low but built to the climactic closing number, "Seventy-Six Trombones" in which the entire Northwood Marching Band and Drill Team consumed the auditorium, almost overtaking the cast.
Northwood's student orchestra did a praiseworthy job with the show's difficult numbers, while the school's student-run sound and stage crew provided impressive support. Fun and creative crossovers ably covered lengthy scene changes. Cast members who did not wear body microphones were occasionally difficult to hear during solos, but the majority of the cast did a great job of projecting the lapses. A few backstage set changes disrupted quiet moments, but most of the scene shifts went quickly and without error.
Northwood High School's production of The Music Man was a fun, feel-good experience that captured the heart of small town America.
Nicole Weber
Huntington Beach Academy of Performing Arts
Orange County (CA) Cappies
This review was published in the Orange County Register.

SAMPLE #5: Review of Time After Time 

A performance that combined Jack the Ripper, time travel and women's liberation was bound to be unconventional. J.E.B. Stuart High School's recent production of John Mattera's Time After Time, however, managed to blend these radically different themes into one interesting theater experience.
"Time After Time" fictionalizes the life of H.G. Wells, the renowned author of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who wrote the science-fiction classic "War of the Worlds." When Jack the Ripper uses Wells's time machine to catapult himself into 1979, Wells follows him to save the unsuspecting public. While in the future, Wells meets and falls in love with banker Amy Robins. Throughout the show, the couple relentlessly pursues Jack, despite such obstacles as uncooperative detectives, a time machine with functional problems and numerous gruesome murders. When Wells and Robins eventually catch Jack, they send him, via the time machine, into the inescapable vortex of infinity.
Stuart's cast was faced with the difficult task of creating a believable foundation for a wide variety of characters. To forge his character of Wells, Pedro Ribeiro combined charm, sensitivity and a dependable English accent. Ribeiro and Danielle Snyder, as Amy Robins, worked together well. Michael Wilmarth's stark portrayal of Jack the Ripper was wonderfully unsettling and disturbing. Though the lack of microphones hindered some performers, Wilmarth's vocal energy was consistently strong.
Two especially notable characters were Natalie Chami as a doomed prostitute and Helen Askale as a security guard. Though their appearances were brief, both displayed commanding stage presence and firm understanding of their characters.
The lighting design by Danny Olewine was effective, leaving no performers in the dark. Andrew Bell designed and edited a commendable time-travel video that was projected onto a screen at the climax of the performance. Though there were a number of technical mishaps, the cast covered for each and did not lose momentum.
Despite a rowdy audience and some small fumbles, Stuart's production of Time After Time was entertaining. Hey, when Jack the Ripper collides with women's lib, it's sure to be a good time.
Sam Willmott
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
National Capital Area Cappies
This review was published in The Washington Post.

REVIEW EDITING EXERCISE (mentors)
Clearly, this is not a review you would select for publication -- not even close.
(A) Find examples of (1) violations of Cappies rules, (2) factual mistakes, (3) misspellings, (4) tense errors, (5) redundant word choices, (6) over-the-top comments and clichés, (7) inconsistencies, and (8) just plain bad writing.
(B) Suppose this review has been selected for submission to a major newspaper. Edit the first two paragraphs to make them publishable.
(C) Suppose it has not been selected for publication. Edit the entire review to comply with Cappies rules, so it can be forwarded to the performing school.
Last night, Millard Fillmore High School performed The Sound of Music, by Rogers and Hammerstein. This was closing night, and it was an amazing show, very well directed by the Fillmore theater director, Ruth Atkins. Every year they put on great shows there, and this was no exception. There were scenes that were so incredible that everyone the audience was thrilled with what they saw.
The story begins when a nun decides she would rather not live in a convent, so she becomes a nanny for a family with six children. She falls in love with their father, who refuses to join the Nazis and has an argument with his fiancé. They get married, and then they all escape across the mountains into Austria.
The leads in this show were unbelievably good. As Maria, Liz Bartell was totally amazing. She was a great actor, and she could act even better than she could act. When she sang, you could close your eyes and think you were on Broadway. Maria had great chemistry with Jim Hedlinger, who played Baron Van Tropp, who complimented her well. Hedlingers was very funny, and had the audience rolling out of their seats.
I really liked Climb Every Mountain, but other songs were almost as good. My Favorite Things is a real show stopper. During Edelweiss, there wasn't a dry eye in the audience. Unfortunately, the orchestra was too loud.
Other commendable performances were given by Jenny Jones, Ben Watson, Julia Stevens, Sylvia Benson, and Jim Maddox. The girl who played the lead nun didn't have quite the same energy level as the others, and it would have been better if they hadn't cast middle schoolers as the children. The head Nazi did a great job but didn't do so well with his German accent, which was supposed to be serious but sounded like something you'd hear on Comedy Central.
The sets and lighting was amazing, but the costumes were probably rented. Unfortunately, some scenes could have been blocked a little better. The sound was perfect, except one time when the mics made a hissing sound.
In the opinion of this critic, this show was well above average for a high school show, and parts of the show are almost professional, but they could have used a little more rehearsal time. The show was so good that by the end I even forgot how uncomfortable the wooden seats were. I strongly recommend that everyone go see The Sound of Music at Filmore High.
– submitted by Susie Stevens, Cappies critic, Benedict Arnold High School

REVIEW WRITING EXERCISE (critics)

  1. Read this review carefully. Find examples of (1) violations of Cappies rules, (2) factual mistakes, (3) misspellings, (4) tense errors, (5) redundant word choices, (6) over-the-top comments and clichés, (7) inconsistencies, and (8) just plain bad writing.
  2. Edit this review, for a show that you're scoring as a 7, except you're giving Maria a 9, and the costumes a 4.
  3. Edit it again, for a show that you're scoring as a 4, except you're giving Maria a 6, and the costumes a 2.


Last night, Millard Fillmore High School performed The Sound of Music, by Rogers and Hammerstein. This was closing night, and it was an amazing show, very well directed by the Fillmore theater director, Ruth Atkins. Every year they put on great shows there, and this was no exception. There were scenes that were so incredible that everyone the audience was thrilled with what they saw.
The story begins when a nun decides she would rather not live in a convent, so she becomes a nanny for a family with six children. She falls in love with their father, who refuses to join the Nazis and has an argument with his fiancé. They get married, and then they all escape across the mountains into Austria.
The leads in this show were unbelievably good. As Maria, Liz Bartell was totally amazing. She was a great actor, and she could act even better than she could act. When she sang, you could close your eyes and think you were on Broadway. Maria had great chemistry with Jim Hedlinger, who played Baron Van Tropp, who complimented her well. Hedlingers was very funny, and had the audience rolling out of their seats.
I really liked Climb Every Mountain, but other songs were almost as good. My Favorite Things is a real show stopper. During Edelweiss, there wasn't a dry eye in the audience. Unfortunately, the orchestra was too loud.
Other commendable performances were given by Jenny Jones, Ben Watson, Julia Stevens, Sylvia Benson, and Jim Maddox. The girl who played the lead nun didn't have quite the same energy level as the others, and it would have been better if they hadn't cast middle schoolers as the children. The head Nazi did a great job but didn't do so well with his German accent, which was supposed to be serious but sounded like something you'd hear on Comedy Central.
The sets and lighting was amazing, but the costumes were probably rented. Unfortunately, some scenes could have been blocked a little better. The sound was perfect, except one time when the mics made a hissing sound.
In the opinion of this critic, this show was well above average for a high school show, and parts of the show are almost professional, but they could have used a little more rehearsal time. The show was so good that by the end I even forgot how uncomfortable the wooden seats were. I strongly recommend that everyone go see The Sound of Music at Filmore High.
– submitted by Susie Stevens, Cappies critic, Benedict Arnold High School

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