The Cappies Must Degender Its Acting Awards


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Every year, students participating in the Cappies program advocate for changing the acting categories, and every year, the requests are turned down. It is past time for The Cappies to remove the basis of gender from its acting awards.

The Cappies is a national program for high school students. Students in The Cappies attend plays and musicals at other high schools in their area, review the productions with opportunities for publishing, and rank and vote on specific categories of student work. The six-month season ends with a gala similar to the Tony Awards. Individual acting awards are split into five categories: lead, supporting, featured, comic, and vocalist. These categories are then split into “actor” and “actress” to separate male and female performers.

Marking categories as male or female excludes nonbinary performers. The categories operate on a binary system. If a nonbinary student is nominated for a Cappie Award, they either have to be misgendered or turn down the nomination. This has happened to real nonbinary students (as well as performers nominated for Tony Awards). Gendering the acting awards denies nonbinary performers equal opportunity. It is blatant transphobia.

Splitting acting categories by gender is no less inappropriate than splitting them by any other demographic or oppressed group. One common argument in support of gendered categories for the Tonys is that critics would not vote for enough women. That’s a separate problem and part of the much larger issue of misogyny. The solution is to advocate for diversity and work to dismantle the basis of misogyny, not to give separate awards to women and men. Male and female performers do not perform their roles differently on the basis of gender, and it is no more appropriate to separate the roles by gender than by any other measure for an oppressed group; race, sexuality, religion, and ability/disability would be equally arbitrary and inappropriate choices. Marking awards differently for an oppressed group is unacceptable and does not address the actual problem of underrepresentation.

Gendering the Cappies acting categories means students will inaccurately evaluate roles’ categories. Students may view a supporting character, for example, as a lead simply because there is no lead role for that gender. This can lead to unfair premises for voting. Chicago, performed at Friends Select in 2019, features main characters Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly, and Billy Flynn. Per the rules given in the Cappies handbook, Roxie and Velma would both qualify as leads, whereas Billy would be a supporting character. However, because the Cappies rules only allow for one female lead, student critics might vote Roxie as Lead Actress and Billy as Lead Actor. In terms of plot, Billy fits the supporting category, but he would be inappropriately evaluated as a lead, leaving Velma to either be marked inaccurately as Supporting Actress or as simply ineligible for nominations. In this way, some performers are made eligible for the wrong award categories and others are denied eligibility in the right categories.

Student critics who raise the issue of gendered awards are dismissed by administration with the excuse that The Cappies program does what the Tonys do. But do we have to? The Cappies has no affiliation with the Tony Awards. Furthermore, The Cappies has an opportunity to set a precedent ahead of the Tonys and other awards programs by refusing to continue including gender as a decision factor.

The acting categories should still allow for two nominees per role type, but “actor” and “actress” should be changed to “performer” to keep nominations truly gender-neutral (since “actor” is a male term, not a gender-neutral one). For purposes of inclusivity, gender equity, and voting accuracy, the Cappies must change their acting categories.