As neither a politician (in the traditional sense) nor seasoned actor, I am not used to being on a stage and asked to speak passionately in front of a lot of people like I did this week at the Kennedy Center.
There are fewer more iconic stages in this country, especially outside of New York or L.A., than that at the Washington, D.C., Kennedy Center, whose concert hall holds 2,500, and where I am a frequent attendee for concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra and other things.
This Monday night, that venue was jammed to capacity for the 23rd version of the Cappies Gala, the revolutionary project launched in 1999 that organizes high school students as critics highlighting and reviewing productions of regional high school plays and musicals. Student critics and performers alike were present and honored, along with proud parents to jam the place to the rafters, and it is doubtful that more noise has ever, ever been generated there by the thousands of energized students screaming and howling at the top of their lungs for their friends as nominations and winners were being announced, which happened scores of times.
The last two years I’ve had the honor of being the first award presenter. Last year, when I opened by saying, “Happy Pride” (in recognition of the month’s celebration of LGBTQ+ people), the place went nuts.
This year, I started with, “This is probably the most important event going on in Washington these days,” and then explained. “It’s because we are now in a time when there is a big push to turn back the clock culturally and I am very proud to be among this rising vanguard to fight against that on behalf of creativity and inclusion,” I said. That brought cheers.
Frankly, I find the whole Cappies operation, including the annual gala at the Kennedy Center, to be the most upbeat and affirming exercise I can think of.
Seeing all the high school talent and their caring parents, teachers and mentors all moving around the lobby dressed to the nines, I couldn’t help but think of the famous saying by Eleanor Roosevelt that “beautiful young people are acts of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” Everyone looked absolutely fabulous, and it was the collective affirmation of creativity and inclusion expressed in the hundreds of huge cheers during the show that was the most stunning.
When thanked beforehand by one of the event’s organizers for my role in supporting the Cappies, including by publishing all Cappie reviews in my newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, I told her it has always been my conviction that journalism is among the arts and that this whole operation is a recognition of that.
This year, the Cappies of the National Capital Area, the original chapter that is now an expanding movement nationwide, involved 41 participating schools performing 37 plays and musicals, 282 voting critics, 1,813 reviews written and 254 reviews published.
Cappies organizers take pride that theirs is “the only high school theater awards program in the U.S. and Canada where the students, not the adults, decide who should be recognized with nominations and awards.”
And truly this represents the best hope for our democracy going forward. There is a direct, passionate link between free and fair voting, fair and equal treatment by our society’s institutions, and expressive affirmations of the inclusion of all in our society, of the inherent creative potential in each and all, and the beauty of love, compassion and their unconventional aspects.
Our society at this point has the choice between moving forward in the direction of even more diversity and affirmation, toward the day in our evolution when gender and race are completely blurred on behalf of a more advanced sense of our cosmic identity, or backward to our culturally prehistoric days of cruel male supremacist authoritarianism.
With the forward direction come the affirmations of the mind, of science and the magnificence of the universe of which we are a part, and in which science and beauty are one.
In the backward trending world, superstition and big cultural lies dominate a world where might makes right.