When Westfield High recently received seven Cappie nominations for its play, "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead," it carried on something that, in a few short years, has become a tradition at this school — excellence in theater.
"In the four years that Westfield High has been in the Cappies program, we've received 33 nominations — an average of eight, each year," said drama director Scott Pafumi. "These include Best Show and Best Ensemble and, to me, those are the best awards to get because it means the whole cast worked together."
He was addressing his young thespians last Thursday, May 27, in a special ceremony at the school, before presenting each nominee with a gold medallion in honor of their nominations. Also participating was Principal Dale Rumberger.
THERE WAS a time, he said, when it was wondered whether drama should be in every school. Now, principals proudly go to The Kennedy Center to see their students honored at the Cappie Awards ceremony.
"And it's because of the caliber of the student performers and the support of the parents," said Rumberger. "Congratulations to all of you," he told Westfield's nominees. "Thank you for showing the very best of the theater arts program."
In addition, each director gets to select four students to receive bronze medallions as Cappies commendees. Westfield's four commended students are senior Diane Rogers and juniors Michelle Murgia, Carolyn Agan and Helen Lynn. And at the Cappie Awards ceremony, June 13 at The Kennedy Center, Agan will sing on stage with a Cappies ensemble, and Murgia and her sister Monica will both dance.
In the title roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were, respectively, Branson Reese and Derek Rommel. Westfield's nominations are for: Best Play; Sound, Emily Brown and Kristen McDermott; Lighting, John Bennett; Ensemble in a Play, Tragedians; Cameo Actor, Reaves McElveen; Comic Actor in a Play, Reese; and Featured Actor in a Play, Rommel.
"I felt really good about [the nominations] because Branson and I worked really hard on this show," said Rommel, 17, a senior. "It was 100 pages we had to memorize and three hours nonstop on stage, so it was really cool to get this recognition."
Although he'd love to take home a Cappie for Featured Actor, he said just being honored is a great way to end the school year and "performing at The Kennedy Center makes it all worth it." Added Rommel: "I'm really happy the play got nominated, too, because it recognizes everybody's hard work."
Sophomore Reese, 16, called his Comic Actor nomination "incredible." Although he'd hoped for a nod, it still surprised him. He chalked it up to "the amount of time I was onstage and the ensembleship that Derek and I had. I don't know if I'll win, because I haven't seen the other actors nominated, but I wish them the best of luck — and even being nominated is great."
MOST OF ALL, Reese is thrilled that the play got nominated because "when the play wins, the school wins. And for the seniors who weren't up for individual nominations, it's a Cappie for them that they really deserve."
Cameo Actor nominee McElveen portrayed the cross-dressing Alfred, part of the tragedian troupe. Back then, he said, "Guys played girls' roles. And Alfred's kind of a crowd-pleaser, with cheap humor that everyone finds funny." This is McElveen's fifth Cappie nomination; he won one last year as a gravedigger in "Hamlet."
"It's always nice to be recognized, and Cappies are a good way to get hyped-up about theater," he said. "I'm just looking forward to performing at The Kennedy Center and being on stage with all my good friends, like Kevin [Knickerbocker], Jon [Lawlor], Branson, Derek and Joe [Schumacher]."
And like the others, McElveen, too, wants Westfield to win for Best Play. "It was a great production, and I think we really deserve the Cappie for it," he said. "It's a tough play for a high-school crowd to put on because the humor can be lost because it's so intellectual. But it was really received well, and I think it's one of the best plays we've ever done."
Representing the Best Play category, senior Ashley Ford — who was the assistant director — agreed about the play's difficulty. "You need to have some knowledge of the [story's] background to really understand it," she explained.
"Westfield's awesome and, for the past three years, we've been nominated for best play, and it's a great way to end the year for the seniors," said Ford. "The play's funny, sharp and witty, and so dimensional that it's great for the audience to watch — and it's something people could respect us for."
CHRIS ERCOLANO, 16, and Katie Hanna, 17, are representing the Best Ensemble (tragedians) category, along with Knickerbocker, Schumacher, Lawlor, McElveen, Megan Thrift, Megan Henry and Michelle Polera. They portrayed the strolling minstrels who performed a play within the play, and they'll recreate it at The Kennedy Center.
As for the nomination, said Ercolano, "It's awesome — a big honor. I'm with such a great group of people that it's cool to be recognized with them. I think we have a pretty good chance of winning."
"This is the best thing that's happened to me in theater, so far, added Hanna. "And it'll be so wonderful to go to The Kennedy Center. I'm nervous, but excited, too."
Seniors Kristen McDermott and Emily Brown are nominated for Best Sound. McDermott won a Cappie last year for "Hamlet," but wasn't expecting a nod this time because "it's hard to be nominated for a play [instead of a musical]." When she found out, she said, "I was ecstatic. I called Emily, and we were screaming over the phone. It was a very exciting moment."
McDermott believes they were nominated because they picked the music, themselves, put the mix together and played "Over the Rainbow" for the ending — which, she said, was the perfect accompaniment.
Up for Best Lighting, John Bennett, 18, won this Cappie, last year. He said Westfield believes that every technical aspect of a play should, itself, tell the story. So, he said, "What I shoot for is that you can look at the lighting and understand what's going on in the play."
For example, he said, "I designed one scene where the light is blue as Hamlet's sneaking up on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to switch his note with theirs. As he's reading it, the light changes to red — and then to a bright red when he realizes that R and G are going to die."
Overall, said director Pafumi, "I'm always pleased when our labor of love gets recognized by other colleagues and critics/students — especially when it's a play very near and dear to me. When it's a show that I want to artistically represent a concept or style — and it gets recognized — it's a nice reward."
However, he believes Knickerbocker deserved more recognition for his efforts and Rommel should have received a Leading Actor nomination. As for the graduating seniors, he said each one leaves behind "a fine legacy and set of traditions that will be carried on by our rising leaders in the program."