Sunday night, St. Louis-area high school-aged girls will don dresses while their male counterparts suit up. They'll make final adjustments to hair and makeup or ties before posing for photos.
But they aren't preparing for prom.
Instead, they'll walk a red carpet and have their own version of a Hollywood awards show: a night of theater, song and dance that celebrates their accomplishments on the stage this school year. They're headed to the Cappie Awards.
The Cappies, short for the Critics and Awards Program, trains high school theater and journalism students as critics. The student critics attend shows at other schools and write theater reviews, which then are published in local news outlets. At the end of the year, the critics vote for awards that are presented at the formal Cappie Awards Gala.
“The event is very much like the Tony awards,” Judi Greene said, co-founder and chair of the St. Louis Cappies and Marquette High School theatre director. “The kids get all dressed up. The school critics are the ones who vote. They're in control.”
Now in its sixth season, the St. Louis Cappies includes 17 private and public high schools from St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties.
There are more than 30 categories in this year's Cappie Awards. Categories include technical aspects, such as sets, lighting and costumes. There are the traditional awards for lead actress and actor in both plays and musicals and awards for the supporting cast. Plus, there are the big ones: Best Play and Best Musical.
This year, theater department has garnered 29 nominations, including Best Play for its and Best Musical for its . In some categories, the school has earned two nominations. theater department has 26 nominations. Its , and , were also nominated for the top honors.
Students say just being nominated is an honor.
"It's great, because I know there are so many talented people and great productions around this area," Parkway Central senior Katy Strutz said. "It feels great to be recognized as maybe one of the best." Strutz, a Chesterfield resident, was nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Play for her role as Meg in Leading Ladies and Best Lead Actress in a Musical for her role as Christine Colgate in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Marquette student Matt Perry was nominated along with fellow seniors Austin Jones and James A. Greene for Best Ensemble for their performance in The Three Musketeers.
“It’s always really exciting that somebody unbiased thought we were entertaining,” Perry said.
The students perform scenes from the nominated shows at the gala. Strutz said Parkway Central students would perform the popular musical number "The More We Dance" from Parkway Central's musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The musical is up for a many awards, and "The More We Dance" was nominated for Best Song.
Parkway Central Sophomore Alexa McKenna is also up for an award for her supporting role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. She played the Russian nurse, Natasha.
"I didn't think I would be nominated because I didn't have a main part," Creve Coeur resident McKenna said. "I was really happy (when I found out) because the Cappies noticed that I had an important part to the musical." For the Featured Actress in a Musical nomination, actors must not play a main role but must impact the show some how, McKenna said.
McKenna said the Cappies program elevates the high school theater experience.
"You feel like it's professional theater," she said. "It makes it more than the high school level." McKenna said the cast was hopeful the musical would be nominated for several awards.
"We didn't talk about it until the show started coming together, the props and costumes and such. And then we saw the set, which was gorgeous," she said. She added that often the students don't worry about impressing the Cappies critics; they're more focused on ensuring they do the best they can.
McKenna is also a part of Parkway Central's critic team. Each Cappies critic team sees at least five of the other Cappies schools' shows. At the end of the theater season, they vote for the nominees. The nominees with the most votes become the award winners.
"If it's a good show, you sort of never forget about it," she said. "But we do have score sheets to help us remember what we thought of the show." McKenna said students are not allowed to vote in categories they have been nominated in and cannot vote for their school.
This year, the awards ceremony takes place on Sunday at and will feature performances from several schools along with guest speakers, including local professional actors and high school principals. But the Cappies represent far more than just a star-studded awards gala for the students.
“It's great to see kids from the inner-city become friends with kids from the county,” Greene said. “There are so many residual benefits for these kids.”
For seniors, such as Strutz, it's a fitting cap on their high school achievements. Strutz is headed to the Rhode Island School of Design and will most likely study illustration.
"This is really my last hurrah in the theater," Strutz said. "To go out with a bang would be incredible, because I loved my time in the theater in high school."
Reporters Chris Reilly and Brian Conradi contributed to this report.