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St. Louis Cappies provide students with professional experiences and scholarships

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 26, 2012 - Sometime during high school, the future becomes more tangible than abstract. Students have to start thinking about money, scholarships and colleges. And for those with an interest in writing, theater and journalism, the Cappies organization can help.

The Cappies helps students from different schools get together and review other high school plays. Each participating school has a team of up to nine critics, who rotate from school to school reviewing each other’s productions. The only restrictions are that no critic can review his or her own school’s plays or mention individuals in a critical manner.

The critics typically gather at a school 45 minutes before a play begins, where several discussion mentors tell them about the play and let them know whether any sets, costumes or props are student made.

After the critics watch a play and write their reviews, they fill out a form with categories such as best actor and best supporting actor. These are saved until the end of the school year, at which time winners in these categories are selected at the Cappies’ end of the year gala.

Originally, students who won awards at the Cappies’ gala would receive a $1,000 scholarship to Lindenwood University. Two years ago Keaton Treece, chairman for the St. Louis Cappies, said he worked with the college and  Lindenwood agreed to increase the winner’s scholarships to $2,500, as well as to provide a $1,000 scholarship for any students nominated for awards at the gala.

Amanda Walker, a Lindenwood graduate who was both a critic for the Cappies and a participant in her school’s plays, said she owes the Cappies a great deal. Walker was nominated for and received awards from the Cappies, and ended up with the majority of her college education paid for by the time she graduated from high school.

“I ended up with a full ride scholarship for theatrical production to Lindenwood University all because of Cappies,” Walker said. “It was a great opportunity. It really motivated me to look at theatre in a different way. It was no longer a just a pastime.”

This year, the Cappies’ gala will be held at Lindenwood, which Treece said is a fitting location, since the university has been a main supporter of Cappies in St. Louis. Treece also said the location is a good match for the event because of Lindenwood’s concentrated program in theater.

In addition to the scholarships, students get a chance, through the Cappies, to meet talent from outside St. Louis. Last year, the Open Jar Institute, a New York based group that provides people with the training needed for Broadway, came to St. Louis and held an audition attended by 120 students, college age and under. Out of these, three students were chosen to go to New York for one week and receive special training from some of the big names in Broadway, including the directors of the musicals “Young Frankenstein” and the “Lion King.”

“It’s such a tremendous opportunity, it’s a life-changer,” Treece said.

One of the students who went on the trip, Treece said, is already working with a traveling performing arts group while he finishes his senior year of high school.

“Long story short, he’s a senior at Lafayette, but he is now touring with the Broadway Company of 'Memphis,' which won the Tony award for best musical,” Treece said.  

Open Jar is returning again in February and will be holding tryouts at Rockwood Summit High School. To give as many students the opportunity to work with Open Jar as possible, the event is open to the public, but Cappies students will get priority registration.

At its core, the Cappies program is about writing reviews, and the critics are far from forgotten. The student writers have the opportunity to win three awards at the year-end gala, with the same scholarship opportunities that theater students are given. In addition, the students are regularly published in a number of professional publications, including the St. Louis Beacon, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Patch.com.

However, the scholarships and publication aren’t the critics major motivation for participating in the Cappies program. According to freshman Cappies writer Allison Tielking, she joined the group out of a love of writing and the fine arts.

“I really enjoy theater,” Tielking said. “I thought it would be a really nice opportunity to see more different places.”

Many of the students are simply involved with the Cappies for the wider range of experience and the connections they make with other theater-lovers, according to Cappies mentor Adrienne Cataldo.

“I think the students enjoy the program because they enjoy watching a variety of theater and discussing it with others who are conversive in theater,” Cataldo said. “It affords them the opportunity to see a wide array of theater.”

Dan Fox is a Beacon intern.

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