No matter what happens at the Cappies Gala, May 27 at The Kennedy Center, Westfield High's theater students feel like winners just because they were nominated.
And Tuesday afternoon, they gathered in their black-box theater for the traditional presentation of their Cappies medallions.
"WE'VE BEEN doing this ever since 'Godspell' in 2002 when we got 12 nominations, and getting the nominations is the award," said Theater Director Scott Pafumi. "But Cappies doesn't define us; it's just another piece of who we are."
He also noted that several students from the various high schools auditioned to be dancers and singers in the Cappies Gala, and five Westfield students made it. Abby Hurlbert, Adrienne Ginter, Leslie Roth and Brittany Martin will dance and Justin Price will sing.
"We're also excited that, at the gala this year, there'll be a very special dance-and-song presentation in honor of two of the Virginia Tech victims who were theater students — Mary Read of Annandale and our Reema Samaha," said Pafumi.
Two Westfield alumni, Kevin Manship and Barry Armbruster, are going to sing "Sunrise, Sunset" and "L'Chaim" from "Fiddler on the Roof," and a Westfield dancer, Alex Kruszewski, will perform a dance solo as if he's dancing with Reema on the stage.
"It's going to be a beautiful, Virginia Tech pride moment in remembering Reema and Mary," said Pafumi. "And that's something we feel we're very much connected to and a part of for this year's gala."
Westfield's Cappies show was "Macbeth" and, at Tuesday's after-school ceremony, Principal Tim Thomas pronounced it "spectacular" and praised the theater students.
"You're a great group of kids," he told them. "I enjoy [your] unity, family-oriented approach and commitment. I'm extremely proud of your accomplishments as a team and a family — and it's pretty obvious other people think you're special, too."
"Westfield Theatre is a great representative of the community, and I'm proud to be a part of it," continued Thomas. "Keep up the good work; congratulations."
BESIDES presenting medallions to those in the seven categories for which Westfield was nominated, Pafumi and Theater Director Zoe Dillard also chose four students to honor who, said Pafumi, "have had a good, growing year and represent all that's best in Westfield Theatre." They were seniors Ariel Herman, Courtney Knickerbocker and Ian Burns, plus junior Cody Jones.
Herman, who played Lady Macbeth, was selected for all four years of her work in the theater program. "She's a character actor and comedienne and is especially talented in the classics," said Pafumi. "And she's one of the reasons we thought of doing Macbeth."
Knickerbocker was lead critic of Westfield's critics team and is also a strong, character actor. "She played leads and ensembles and was a friend to many," said Pafumi. "And she's been part of the history of Westfield Theatre since the beginning."
Pafumi called Burns a "well-rounded student and young man" and noted the variety of jobs he's done for Westfield, including assistant managing and doing tech work. And he described Jones as "a definite standout on the stage. He brings a creative style and spirit to the program."
Nominated for critics team for the first time ever, Westfield's critics were published 12 times. Pafumi said it's the only Cappies category chosen by the Cappies Steering Committee — the adults running the organization. The other nominations are selected by students.
Receiving an individual nomination for Cappies critic was Jonathan Goldsmith, who saw eight shows and was published four times. Said Pafumi: "It's our first-ever, individual nomination for a student critic."
An excited Goldsmith said he thought it might be a possibility because this Cappie nod is "not determined by opinion, but by the number of shows you've seen and reviews you've gotten published.
A junior, Goldsmith truly enjoyed being a critic. "I was really impressed by all the schools in the area," he said. "Their shows were really outstanding." And although he's attended the Cappies gala before, he's looking forward to sitting in the nominees' section for the first time.
Westfield's been nominated for lighting, several years in a row, even without having fancy, expensive, so-called "intelligent lighting," said Pafumi. And this time around, he said, "Alex Merrill was at the helm for the lighting board and we got the nomination."
Pleased, Merrill said, "Hopefully, I'll win. But whether or not I do, I'm glad I got to be the lighting person for this show; I really liked doing it." He believes the critics noticed his work because "the strobe light had a big impact since it was different" and also because of the silhouettes he created — the "stage pictures" produced from the lighting and blocking.
THE SHOW'S percussionists and musicians were nominated for a creativity award that was also well-deserved, said Pafumi. "There was a lot of earthy and primal sound, and the critics were blown away by it — and most of it was live," he said. "A large group of people worked in the sound category, but we could only nominate five: Dan Hrebenak, Jessica Jordan, Russell Waggoner, Samantha Henry and Alex Kruszewski."
Nate Peterson was nominated for Cameo Actor for playing the drunken porter, the serious drama's only comic relief. Said Pafumi: "He took direction well and did exactly what he had to do."
Peterson said other people told him he'd probably receive a nomination for that role "because it was the only funny part in the show. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but it was nice to get it." This will also be his first trip to The Kennedy Center, so he's looking forward to being there, as well as attending his first Cappies Gala.
He credited Pafumi with much of what made his small part stand out. Said Peterson: "He gave me all these really good gags to do — like drop the keys, fall asleep and make loud, weird noises — small, funny stuff that added a whole lot to the role."
Receiving a Cappie nod for Cameo Actress was Sarah Pike. "When it comes to dramatic moments on stage and making it as real as it gets, no one does it better than her," said Pafumi. "As Lady Macduff, she captured the spirit of a mother torn apart by a child, and it was a bone-chilling scene."
"I feel so excited," said Pike afterward. "This year, my role in the Cappies show was a lot smaller, so I wasn't thinking about the award as much. So it was a really nice surprise to get a nomination." Regarding her chances of winning, she said, "I've only seen one other nominee in this category, so I have no idea how to compare myself. And half the fun is going to the gala, whether or not you win."
Chelsea Stenger, Jade Jones and Sarah Cowdery were nominated for Ensemble in a Play for their portrayal of the Three Weird Sisters. "These are famous roles and they're hard to play," said Pafumi. "They represented what the show was about — sophisticated evil, the chanting of spells and a connection to the spirit world."
He said handling such dangerous emotions can be scary for high-school students, but the trio rose to the occasion and then some. "They had the maturity to handle the roles," he said. "They remained pure of heart and didn't let the evil of their characters affect their real lives. They were already best friends, strong and tight-knit, and this experience drew them even closer."
Pleased with the notice in this category, Cowdery said, "It's one thing to have a lead and do well with it, but it's more difficult — yet more rewarding — to have multiple people pull together and be a unit. We loved the show and, whether we win or not, we'll always have the experience."
"I FEEL really excited that my friends and I are getting recognized for our work and something we had a lot of fun doing," added Jones. "I think we have a good chance of winning."
Stenger said she's "mostly just happy that the critics saw all the work we put into it. And to be rewarded for having that much fun with Jade and Sarah is cool."
Another prestigious nomination went to Stephen Hatch, who portrayed Macbeth, for Lead Actor in a Play. "We pick shows based on our talent pool and who we are," said Pafumi. "And [he] had the intelligence, energy, passion, the look and the combatant skills for this part. It's also a daunting task to play the lead in a role that's so famous — you're judged by 400 years of history — and this is an extremely worthy nomination."
Hatch said he's honored just to get nominated. "My first Cappies show was 'Fiddler,' and I saw all the nominees on stage and it looked so awesome," he said. "I wanted to be there, too, and now I am." As for winning, he said, "I have as good a chance as anyone; we'll just have to see what happens."
Proud of all his theater students, Pafumi said nothing in their program is fluff — everything is substance. And, he added, they didn't perform so well for the awards, but because of their "passion for the arts and love of theater and community."