From a very young age, Cathy Wright was drawn to the dramatic arts, and would get lost in an imaginary world. Her mom was a teacher at the California School for the Blind, and her father was a high school math teacher in Fremont. As the children of teachers, she and her two brothers were always trying new things.
“When I was three, my parents put me in soccer and I just stood there and sang,” said Cathy. “Then they put me in swimming, and I was chubby so I just bobbed around. But then they put me in drama and I knew right away that’s where I belonged.”
Today she’s a musical theater enthusiast, having seen hundreds of productions. When pressed to choose a favorite, she recalled a time in high school when she says she “lived for” drama and choir. In her senior year, she landed the lead role in Hello Dolly, and it changed her life. So this year, for her 50th birthday, she’s got tickets to see Bette Midler in Hello Dolly on Broadway. “It’s like reading a really good book,” she says. “I get totally lost in musical theater, and in the beauty of the stories.”
It was in middle school that she found her life calling. “I had a drama teacher who forever changed the way I looked at the world,” she shared. “Her name was Princess and she was energetic, smart and funny. I remember leaving her class with the feeling that I could conquer the world.” She knew then that she would someday become a middle school drama teacher.
In 1992, with a degree in English, she landed her dream job at Benicia Middle School as a part-time drama teacher. She taught English and Journalism for a while too, but with her passion and energy, the drama department quickly grew. Today she teaches all three grades, including the advanced drama classes for grades seven and eight. She also integrates special needs students into her programs.
There are many techniques, but gibberish is one of her favorites to teach. For example, students might imagine someone has taken their chair, and they have to explain in gibberish that they need their chair back. Students learn how to tell a whole story without speaking English. Instead, they find creative ways to use vocal variances, volume, facial expression and pantomime to communicate their needs, and to resolve conflict.
“At the center of drama is communication. The world is becoming more team-oriented, and drama is an important part of preparing students for future success. Drama also helps kids develop tolerance and empathy. Role-playing and problem solving are some of the most important building blocks in a strong theater class.”
Cathy is part of a movement to unify the drama programs in the district, share resources and strengthen theater arts learning for all ages. However, she’s not shy about saying middle school students will always be her favorite.
“I love the sense of humor in middle schoolers. They come up with the greatest lines. We laugh all day long,” she smiles.