'What Real Teenagers Do'

'What Real Teenagers Do'

High school theater is the real youth culture in America.

Our teenagers are so wonderfully talented, and the shows they put on are so good, so fresh, so fun. And, recently, newspapers like The Connection have been supporting them better than ever, publishing dozens of student-written reviews. Now, with this special "spring season" edition, The Connection is boosting high school theater in ways that, to my knowledge, no paper has ever done before.

Flip through this section, check out the show schedule, and you'll notice that spring is the season for baseball, cherry blossoms, and grand high school musicals. Not so long ago, not many schools did musicals, or at most they did them once every four years. Now, nearly everywhere, big musicals become annual traditions, often playing before excited sellout crowds.

This month marks the third anniversary of Columbine. It was in the aftermath of that tragedy, three years ago, that Judy Bowns and I founded The Cappies. Through this "critics and awards program," high school students attend and review each others' shows, aided by a volunteer army of teachers, parents, theater professionals, and the media. This year, 39 schools are participating, each of whom has submitted one show for review. In early June, our year will culminate with a formal Tonys-style Cappies Gala at the Concert Hall of The Kennedy Center.

Judy's a teacher, I direct commercial theater, and through the Cappies, we're sharing a little secret: Psst, high school theater tickets are cheap, parking is free, you can munch cookies at intermission, and the shows are absolute jewels.

The best half hour of a high school musical is better than the best half hour of most professional shows. When skilled, well-directed teens really get rolling and get in that "zone" onstage, you can see their faces light up, sharing the discovery that hey, it's working.

When you go to a high school show, bring the whole family. Give your smaller kids a taste of good theater, and show grandma and grandpa something Boston Public never will: what real teenagers do. If you don't know anyone in the cast, so what. You don't when you go to Arena Stage, do you?

For a special treat, come to a "Cappies night," when the critics are there and the cast and crew are putting it all on the line, going for those coveted Cappie awards.

You'll enjoy yourself — that's a promise. And on your way home, you'll get that extra little joy you can't get anyplace else but in high school theater. It's the joy of wondering which of those incredibly gifted kids might someday be a star.