National Commentary

‘Cappies’ Showcase Our Best Hope

These are unsettling times, about as unsettling as it gets for a period when there are no major hot wars raging. The whistleblower revelations about the ominously pervasive reach of secret U.S. intelligence operations blanketing U.S. citizens should give any thinking person pause. The “uprising” in Turkey, being one of the most transparent cases of foreign intelligence meddling ever, doesn’t stop CNN and the others from trying to legitimize it. That’s just this week.

So, stepping away from the mess that alpha males are making of our world for an evening, hope for humanity could be found alive and well during an evening at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, at Sunday night’s 14th annual Cappies Gala, a delightful showcase of the best of the past year’s high school drama department accomplishments among 56 schools in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

It was conducted to a capacity crowd in the concert hall on the same night as the Tony Awards ceremonies were going on in New York, but despite the audience’s keen interest in theater, generally, no one begrudged spending four hours at the Cappies show, which followed a similar format as the Tonys, and was every bit as entertaining.

What made the Cappies gala so endearing was the enthusiasm and promise of the young performers, not only those who stepped up to accept an award, but all those who took part in the big production numbers opening and closing the evening, and the many special scenes and songs from the past years’ best productions presented during the show. The awards also honored student theater critics, who hone their writing skills attending and writing reviews of high school plays that are published in a number of area newspapers, including mine.

The Cappies were launched in the Summer of 1999 by Judy Bowns, a theatre arts resource teacher in the Washington area suburb of Fairfax County, Virginia, and Bill Strauss for the purpose, they wrote, “of celebrating and bringing public acclaim to high school theater.” Now, in addition to the eager participation of 56 DC-area schools, Cappies programs have also been launched in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, El Paso, Ft. Lauderdale, New Jersey, Orlando, Kansas City, Orange County (Calif.), St. Louis, Springfield (Mo.), Philadelphia and Edmonton, Niagara and Ottawa, Canada.

With all the attention paid to high school sports, this program levels the playing field, so to speak, at least to a degree. Competitive sports are the dominion of alpha males who are screwing up the world. Theater arts and related programs nurture the sensibilities of those who are tasked with cleaning up alpha male messes to make for a better humanity.

I was honored to make an award presentation at Sunday’s Cappies gala. Before naming nominees and opening an envelope to announce a winner in the choreography category, I said a few words.

I told the 800 hundred students, mentors, parents and friends, that their work as creative individuals performing or writing (I wasn’t in the theater when I was in high school, but was editor of my high school newspaper, I noted) brings happiness, truth and beauty to a world where there is far too little of all those. As such, “You are all lovely and very important people,” I said.

I was thinking of what E.M. Forster wrote in his 1939 pamphlet, “What I Believe,” written on the eve of World War II.

“I believe that creativeness remains and will always assume direction when violence sleeps,” he wrote. “I believe in aristocracy, not an aristocracy of power, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet.

“They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not in swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.”

They’re humanity’s hope.