Centreville High drama students usually rehearse a play for eight weeks, but they were three weeks into rehearsals for "Noises Off" when they learned they wouldn't be able to obtain the production rights.
The comedy "Rumors" had the same amount of people, so director Mark Rogers had his cast quickly shift gears and begin rehearsing it, instead. "Once they started working on it, they got better with every rehearsal," he said.
In fact, the young thespians got so good that their performance in November earned them seven Cappie nominations. They're nominated for best play, actor and actress, comic actor and actress, featured actor and sets. The award ceremony is this Sunday, June 8, at The Kennedy Center.
"The night before we performed 'Rumors,' I told them, 'You guys don't know what a show you have created — it's a magical piece of theater,'" said Rogers. "I could tell they weren't sure whether to believe me. At the end of the first show, the entire audience stood and whooped and hollered, and I could see they were thinking, 'Mr. Rogers was right.'"
Written by Neil Simon, "Rumors" follows what happens when guests arrive for a dinner party, but their hosts are nowhere to be found. When the curious guests try to solve the mystery, rumors run rampant.
Nominated for best comic actor, senior Theo Thompson, 18, played a state senate candidate attending the party with his wife Cassie, senior Ryann Morrow. "I'm extremely happy that I'm nominated," he said. "Even if I don't win, just the honor of a nomination is thrilling." Looking forward to performing a scene from "Rumors" at The Kennedy Center, he said, "It will be exciting, just like the Tonys."
Thompson's also glad that "the Cappies critics loved the play as a whole." He believes "the energy of the cast" set it apart, and he said all the actors "wanted to strive higher" after being prevented from performing "Noises Off" (because it was being performed elsewhere, within 200 miles). After graduation, he'll major in theater at Columbia College in Chicago, and he hopes to someday act professionally.
Morrow, 17, was nominated for best comic actress. "Deep down, I knew we'd get something because this cast is so strong and we had great characters," she said. "But I didn't expect anything for me, so it was an amazing surprise."
She said the nomination was truly overwhelming. "It was a huge honor — it brought tears to my eyes," said Morrow. "And to get to perform before all those people at The Kennedy Center will be exciting."
Nominated for best actor was junior Eric St. Peter, 17, who played party guest Lenny Ganz. He believes he attracted the Cappie judges' eye with his "out-there" performance. "I wasn't just sitting — I was running around the stage, yelling stuff," he said. "I was at home when Mr. Rogers called me and said, 'I have good news.'"
St. Peter said he still can't believe it. "It's not something I was expecting to happen," he said. "I was really excited about it — it's really big for me." As for the play, he said it "definitely deserved" a nomination. "People were saying it didn't look like a high-school play — that it looked professional," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it went the whole way."
Senior Rachel Dolan, 18, is nominated for best actress for her portrayal of party guest Chris Gorman. "The best actors and actresses can't shine unless they have a really strong cast — and we all fed off each other," she said. "My character was eccentric and exaggerated and had a drinking problem. I carried it to the next step, and it added to the comedy."
She said she thought it "would be cool to be nominated," but she didn't anticipate it, so it came as a pleasant surprise. So will she win? "It's a tough category, and most of my competitors are in dramas, so it's a toss-up," said Dolan. "It really depends what [the judges] are looking at."
But she's looking forward to the ceremony at The Kennedy Center: "It's a special event, and it gives everybody a chance to dress up and play grownup." And she thinks the best-play nomination is awesome. "I was happy for everyone involved," she said. "We worked really hard, and [we earned it] because of how much we put into it."
Playing Dolan's husband, Ken Gorman, in the play, was senior Michael Peterson, 17 — and his performance drew a nomination for best featured actor. "Because this play was so wild and crazy — and my character was the one who tried to keep everything together — I tried to form a solid character who'd be a base for all the crazy, weird things to come off of," he explained.
"I'm honored by the nomination — it was totally unexpected," said Peterson. He said a friend came up to him at school and congratulated him, but he had no idea what she meant. Then, he said, "I went home and looked up the Cappies Web site, and my name was up there." Since he, too, faces stiff competition, he doesn't know how he'll do, but he can hardly wait to perform on stage at The Kennedy Center because "it's so cool and so esteemed."
Junior Rick Mathews, 16, was nominated for best set. He created a living room in colors of yellow and dark burgundy. "The walls had no seams and looked realistic," he said. "And the half-curve staircase completed the set."
Representing the best-play nod, senior Chris Nolan, who played a police officer, said "Rumors" was "pretty cool and lots of fun." He said St. Peter's performance was "amazing," and he believes the play will fare well, Sunday night.
Stage manager Michelle Boucher, 18, attended to props and sound effects and handled cast members' problems. "Since we did a good play by Neil Simon, I hoped it would make it through [for a nomination]," she said.
Proud of the best-play nomination, she said, "It really helps the [Drama] Department because theater gets recognized when it wins awards, and it gives us the recognition we deserve." Also honored was junior Lauren Robinson who, on Friday, received Centreville High's Thespian Award for best comic performance in "Rumors." She played ditzy guest Cookie whose random comments and comedic back spasms made the audience roar with laughter.
Rogers told his actors to think of the show as an out-of-control train. "At the end of the first act, they were winded and huffing and puffing," he said. "It's all about speed, hitting your cues, running around and bumping into each other."
"I'm so proud of them," he continued. "[Their nominations] are a credit to their talent and dedication to the show. I couldn't have a better cast because, offstage, they're all just as funny." He's also pleased that "seven of the 10 major cast members are seniors who'll continue to study theater in New York, Chicago or Boston."