Seen a high school show lately? If not, here are 12 reasons why you should.
Reason #1. High school plays and musicals are better than ever — way better than when today's middle-aged adults were teenagers. I often give speeches about teenagers, and when I do, I ask people to raise their hands if they've recently seen a school show. Usually, only a few people have. When I ask what they thought of them, I hear words like "incredible, amazing, unbelievable."
Reason #2. They're a tremendous bargain. Tickets are usually somewhere between five to 10 bucks. Parking is free, close, and easy. At intermission, cookies and a soft drink will cost a few coins at most. Price that out at Arena, or the Warner or National Theaters, or the Kennedy Center.
Reason #3. High school shows are fun — and suitable — for the whole family. Grandpa, grandma, middle school kids, little school kids, everybody enjoys them. If anybody has trouble hearing or seeing, of if you have small kids, come early and get seats in the first few rows.
Reason #4. You get to meet the cast. Stick around for a few minutes afterwards, tell 'em what a great job they did in front of their moms and dads, and watch all the big smiles you get. You can't do that at Arena Stage, can you?
Reason #5. These shows are incredibly fresh. The cast and crew get to do each show only a few times, so they make a total effort every time. When young performers get on a roll, what they do can be astounding. Even when there's a glitch, watch how the cast and crew handle it, and get an insider's lesson in live theater.
Reason #6. The best school musicals and plays are truly astounding. We have dozens of schools with truly superb programs. People who saw it will confirm that last year's Cappie-winning musical, Madison's "Chicago," may have been better than the movie. Duke Ellington's "Hair" was better sung, with more spirit, than the original Broadway show. St. Stephens & St. Agnes put on a riveting black-box "MacBeth." St. Albans and West Potomac presented two extremely challenging musicals — "Ragtime" and "The Titanic" — with fine vocals and a lot of heart. Lake Braddock's gripping final scene in "A Piece of My Heart" brought tears to many. At Walt Whitman and Stonewall Jackson, student orchestras showed near-professional quality. I could go on and on.
Reason #7. Nearly every show has its own special tricks, surprises, and delights. For "My Fair Lady," Robinson had costume changes worthy of Broadway. In Osbourn Park's "Camelot," Sir Lancelot entered, singing, on a horse. Hayfield's "42nd Street" was full-bore Busby Berkeley. Woodson built a wacky man-eating plant-puppet for "Little Shop of Horrors." The two shovel-smacking gravediggers in Westfield's "Hamlet" brought to mind the young Red Skelton and Buddy Ebsen. Pratfalls, stage combat, magic, mummy boxes, people flying through the air — you name it, you'll find it on school stages.
Reason #8. American high school theater is the best in the world. Period. When the supposed "experts" draw comparisons between students in America versus those elsewhere, they never bring up extracurriculars. Check out high school newspapers, yearbooks, student government, community service, sports, and (especially) theater. Is there anywhere in the world whose teenagers match ours for student performance? Germany or France? Japan or Singapore? Canada or Australia? Not anywhere. Not even close.
Reason #9. Here in the National Capital Area, high school theater is as good as it gets anywhere. Fairfax County is the birthplace of the Cappies, which is now a nationwide program. Fifty-five area high schools take part in the Cappies, and our annual Cappies Gala is the largest celebration of youth theater anywhere. Each summer, the Kennedy Center hosts the Cappies National Theater, where roughly four dozen teen stars from across America gather to put on shows in the Theater Lab.
Reason #10. Seeing a Cappies show is an experience of its own — kind of like going to a homecoming football game, except it's theater, the high school equivalent of Opening Night on Broadway. Anywhere from 20 to 50 student critics are in the theater, and reviews and awards are on the line. If you see people wearing big Cappies buttons, those are "star parents" from all over who are seeing as many Cappies shows as they can. Everybody in the audience can feel the buzz. When you see a Cappies show, you can pick up The Connection and The Washington Post a few days later, and read what the critics had to say about it. Make your own Cappie award forecasts — and, at the end of the year, see if the student critics agreed with you.
Reason #11. Discover the real youth culture. Pop music, movies, TV shows — they're not it. Who are the people who produce, direct, write, and perform those things? Nearly always, it's older people, still pretending to be teenagers, many of whom don't have a clue what real teenagers are like. They're not the youth culture. The kids you'll see onstage — they're the real deal.
Reason #12. On your way home, and afterwards, you'll think really good thoughts about today's teenagers — about what a bright, capable, hard-working bunch of kids they are. You'll realize that, despite all the negativity in the media about teenagers, the truth is, they're doing very well, as a whole. Test scores are rising. Crime, school violence, teen pregnancy, smoking, drinking and substance abuse are falling. People my age sure couldn't say that, when we were their age.
And wow, do they put on shows. See them. Support them. Enjoy them.