The Greater Philadelphia Cappie Award Gala takes place every year and celebrates outstanding performances by high school theater programs and performances across the New Jersey, Delaware and Philadelphia regions, and this year, Bordentown Regional High School theater veteran Hannah Vliet, culminated her high school theater career by winning the 2018 Cappie Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as Sheila in the BRHS production of A Chorus Line.
“I was so surprised I won,” said Vliet, who was also nominated alongside classmates Varun Andrews, Evan Braasch, Shannon Hansell, Abigayle Harnum and Alicia Method for Outstanding Critic Team. Throughout the year, the critic team travels to other schools that participate in the Cappies, and rate their performances.
The winners are selected by other Cappie participants throughout the region based on a points system. The awards and nominations are structured like the Tony’s. Other BRHS nominations this year from the production of A Chorus Line include senior Peter Heberling for Outstanding Lighting and Sound, along with sophomore Kyle Meier for Outstanding Sound. Senior Evan Braasch was nominated for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical and junior Annissa Richard was nominated for Outstanding Female Vocalist.
Braasch and Andrews also performed at the gala this year.
The Cappie season begins in September and ends in May. BRHS’s spring musicals typically participate in the season, while the fall play does not. Throughout the year, Vliet and her teammates traveled to about one show a month to rate other performances, and students from other schools visited Bordentown to watch A Chorus Line.
“When you see students perform in something and admire them, it feels very gratifying for them to recognize you,” said Vliet.
She explained how high the stakes were for A Chorus Line. “It’s such a dance-heavy show,” she said. “The dancing is so iconic, so the audience knows how it looks. If you mess up, they’ll know.”
All the same, Vliet said that Sheila was probably her favorite role she’s played. “I’ve always been more of an actor first, then a singer,” she said. Because of this, “Usually in musicals, I have small parts where I only speak a few lines. This was the first time I had a real principal role in a musical. I thought, ‘This is my time.’”
Of Sheila herself, Vliet said, “She’s a very powerful woman who is straightforward. I loved the character and the experience. It’s such an iconic piece of theater and I feel lucky I could be a part of that.”
A Chorus Line was directed by Stacie Morano, Bordentown’s technical director and theater manager.
“[Morano] does everything—creative director, helps the students, builds all the sets, technical director,” said Vliet. “The arts program at our high school would not function without her.”
Vliet accredits part of her award-winning performance to Morano. “I’ve learned so much from her—how to be an artist, a leader, how to work with adults and kids, and be a proponent of the arts.”
Vliet has been performing for around seven years and her first show was Mulan Jr. She’s been participating in about three shows every year since. According to her, this is at least her 30th production.
In the summer, Vliet participates in local Community District Alliance productions, also under the guidance of Morano.
“Stacie is like my second mom,” Vliet said. “It’s weird to think that I’ll be in a show and she won’t be the director. Watching her be so career-driven and be a nice, caring person is really inspiring.”
Vliet plans on attending Rutgers University this fall and pursuing a double major in theater and either journalism or English.
Though she plans on incorporating theater in her future, what Vliet said she’ll miss the most about her high school career are the people.
“I’m really going to miss the family I’ve created there…with theater, I can go out of my comfort zone and still feel supported by my peers in a way that’s different from classes or at home,” she said.
Braasch and Andrews shared similar sentiments about leaving the theater program.
For Andrews, who was nominated for his second Cappie this year after first being nominated his sophomore year for Best Critic Team, “The one thing I will miss the most above anything are the people…I’ll never take for granted the relationships and memories that I’ve had with them over the years.”
Andrews continued, “I can’t say enough about the passion and dedication Stacie has for theater and also for us to be our best selves during our productions.”
Andrews plans on attending Nova Southeastern University in Florida and pursuing bachelor of science and doctor of osteopathic medicine degrees while majoring in biology. He hopes to remain active in the theater community “whether that is through participating in community or school musicals,” he said.
Braasch, who was also nominated with Andrews his sophomore year for Outstanding Critic Team, plans on studying mechanical engineering at Lafayette College.
“I owe a lot of great friendships to Bordentown theater, along with some of the best memories.” He continued, “I’ll definitely keep doing theater if I have the time, but I’m also really interested in community service.”
When asked about performing at the gala in front of roughly a thousand people, Braasch stated, “I knew it was going to be one of my last performances in high school, so I just wanted to enjoy it.”
Andrews enjoyed the experience, as well. “Since the first Cappies Gala I went to, I had always been in awe of the opening number and I had always wanted to be in it if presented the chance. So when I finally did get the opportunity, I was ecstatic.”
Theater is clearly an integral part of these students’ lives and their hard work and dedication to the art paid off at the gala. Morano, who has been working at BRHS for 11 years, described the impact theater has on her students.
“I enjoy sharing my love of theater with teenagers,” she said. “They’re trying to find their place in the world, and a good theater program gives them a place to express their emotions during a time when the rest of the world can seem like a scary place.”
This isn’t the first time BRHS students have received numerous nominations and a win from the Cappies. The theater program has been participating in the competition since 2011. Each year since, BRHS students have received nominations and some winners went on to perform at a national level.
“Our very first winner, Nicholas Rodriguez, won for Outstanding Male Vocalist, and he’s now a professional actor currently performing in the Broadway tour of Les Miserables,” said Morano.
Though she appreciates receiving recognition, “the best part of the Cappies process is that it brings attention to the hard work our students do in the rehearsal room and on stage,” she said.
The support goes both ways, as Vliet pointed out. “[The BRHS administration and staff] have all been really supportive of not only me individually, but of the arts program on a district and regional level.”
She continued,“[The theater] has been a space for me to grow into a young woman and artist… It’s changed my life and created a safe space for a lot of kids.”
At a time when funding of the arts for high schools around the country is in a precarious position, it is critical to emphasize the impact the theater has on students.
“There may be some people who say ‘It’s only a high school play,’” said Morano. “But those student performers are future leaders who are gaining confidence and learning empathy, qualities which are priceless in today’s world.”