Today the Licking Heights Theatre Department, tomorrow the Tony Awards. Or, perhaps, the CAPA Marquee Awards.
Licking Heights High School’s theatre department is currently up for three Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) Marquee Awards, including Best Musical Production, for their 2023 performance of Catch Me If You Can. This is the first year Licking Heights participated in the Marquee Awards, and the high school is the first and only Central Ohio school participating from Licking County.
According to CAPA, the Marquee Awards are “committed to celebrating, supporting and advocating for high school musical theatre education throughout central Ohio.” There are 13 different awards encompassing all elements of musical theatre, from directing to designing to dancing.
“Our production was recognized as one of the top five overall best high school musical productions in the Central Ohio region. I would equate this to making it to State Finals in any other performing arts or sports program,” says Joshua Schirtzinger, Licking Heights theatre teacher and director. “This is an incredible honor for the students, the program and the district as a whole. I am extremely proud of the program I have had the opportunity to lead and grow, with the help of our Vocal Music Director, Dr. Meredith Smith.”
After the success of Licking Heights’ 2022 production of Newsies, Schirtzinger says he wanted to do a musical that would engage the community and challenge students. Catch Me If You Can provided intricate vocal harmonies, choreography across decades, costumes accurate to the 1960s and a technically complex set design that wove multiple locations together.
Ayden Kerg and Ryann Schindler rose to the challenge. Kerg, a senior, is up for CAPA’s Best Actor in a Leading Role award for playing FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. Junior Schindler is nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role with her work as Cindy/Nurse 1. Senior Carter Russ, who starred as Frank Abagnale, Jr., was a semifinalist for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
While Schindler is a relative newcomer to the theatre department–she joined as a sophomore thanks to a friend–she has already found success as a singer, actress, dancer and leader. She starred as Emily Webb in the department’s fall play, Our Town, and sang in the ensemble of Newsies.
Along with her roles in Catch Me If You Can, Schindler participated in the ensemble as a dancer and singer. She even served as a Dance Captain and choreography assistant–despite never dancing before.
“Theatre has made me so much more social,” she says. “I was so quiet, but then I got into theatre and it totally transformed me. I am so much more open to talking to new people and trying new things.”
For Kerg, who calls himself “a musical guy, through and through,” the movie Catch Me If You Can was a part of childhood. It is one of his dad’s favorite films, and they share a favorite character of Agent Hanratty. Kerg says he loved getting into Hanratty’s head and giving him a unique backstory.
“Being nominated for this award gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I’ve put in the effort and I’m excited to show what I have,” Kerg says. “My mind was blown when I found out I made it to the semifinals. I met the other nominees, and they are fantastic.”
Like Schindler, a friend got Kerg involved in theatre–fellow cast member Carter Russ inspired him to join freshman year. To round out Kerg’s four years, he won Most Improved, Most Valuable Thespian and Most Likely to Save the Day at the department awards in April.
“Theatre has definitely forced me to come out of my shell. I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s body,” he says. “It’s just so much fun to go out, perform and do something that’s nice for the community. The Marquee Award nomination has made me think I could do something with theatre. Maybe I have got what it takes.”
For Schirtzinger, what matters most is providing students with a safe, encouraging space to be themselves and develop a lifelong love of theatre–whether they choose to pursue it professionally or as a hobby throughout life.
“I hope my students leave this program with lasting memories and a community in which they feel safe making creative choices and comfortable being fully themselves,” he says. “It is such a rewarding experience seeing the passion for theatre being ignited in the next generation and knowing that I played a part in it.”
The CAPA Marquee Awards will take place on Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St., Columbus, OH 43215. The event is open to the public and tickets can be purchased at capamarqueeawards.com. The Licking Heights cast will perform “Don’t Break the Rules” during the show.