Ron Bright, a hero in localBy John Berger
arts education, is honored for
years of devotion to Hawaii's
Special to the Star-Bulletin
There's a mean-spirited bit of doggerel to the effect that those who can do, do; those who can't do, teach. Whoever made that one up owes Ron Bright an apology.
Formally known as "Mr. Bright" to several generations of drama students and their parents, Ron Bright has devoted his life to teaching others how to develop their talents and follow their dreams. He could hardly have made a bigger contribution as a performer, and he says he never thought much about it.
"I've never aspired to do anything other than teach," he said. "Theater has been my life. I will forever cherish it, and the more I can expose young people to the aesthetics of theater, the more I feel I've accomplished my mission."
Bright, 65, officially retired last year after 41 years teaching drama at Castle High School. He currently serves as artistic director of the Castle Performing Arts Center, which he helped establish in 1984. The center, a model for similar programs in other school districts, is housed in a theater named for Bright on the high school campus.
Bright was honored by the Public School Foundation Tuesday for his lifetime commitment to public school education. He will receive the 1999 Alfred Pries Award from the Hawai'i Alliance for Arts Education on Saturday.
At least 12 of his students, including "Miss Saigon's" Jade Stice and Chloe Stewart, have gone from the Castle program to appearances in Broadway or off-Broadway shows. More than 100 others have gone into theater-related occupations. Bright is also proud of those over the years who have "found themselves" through in high school theater.
Believe it or not, Bright had no interest in theater as he was growing up in Hilo. He made his debut as a high school senior when he was "coerced" into being in a show. He said he enjoyed it, but spent two years in college working toward accounting and business administration degrees before changing his major to education with an emphasis in theater. After a month in Los Angeles checking out possibilities in theater and film, Bright decided that teaching was what he wanted to do.
He probably could have been promoted within the DOE bureaucracy, but working with kids was more important to him. He made the Castle program so popular that many teens begged for geographic exceptions to commute from as far as central Oahu to study with him. Anecdotal tales circulate that some families actually packed up and moved to Windward Oahu for the opportunity to work with "Mr. Bright."
Despite horror stories circulating in local entertainment circles about insufferable children and ruthless backstabbing "stage parents," Bright says he recalls dealing with only one "stage mother" in his years at Castle.
Everyone who participates in the Castle program is expected to check their attitudes at the door and work together as team -- kids and adult volunteers alike.
When Bright's children and daughters-in-law appear in his productions, he expects the same of them.
"They knew when they're up there they're no different from the rest of them, and many of them had a hard time calling me 'Dad' because everybody else called me 'Mr. Bright.' My early students who are now in their late-50s are still calling me 'Mr. Bright.' "
He says there are no secrets to what he does.
"I believe every kid can be successful. I refuse to allow them to think that they're not going to be able to do or accomplish (something). If the dancers are working hard and one kid says, 'I don't dance,' I'll ask him, 'Just for my sake, would you try to stick it out for a little while?' My greatest gratification comes when they start feeling so good about their success.
"Kids don't fail. You gotta make them go from success to success to make them good enough, but with enough humility as they go through life to feel good about themselves and love and respect the art.
"They are the actors in life as well as on stage. Theater gets us there, but what happens to the kids is the most important thing."
Bright tries hard to defuse rivalries even when the prize is a plum role in a Castle performance at the International Thespian Festival. This year's big production, "Sweet Charity," starring his student, Aiko Schick, goes to the University of Nebraska in June.
"Casting is the hardest thing I do. I'm very tenderhearted when it comes to kids' disappointment. We have a sit-down session before they audition and we talk about caring about each other's feelings and how we want everybody to feel good about what they do, and we tell the parents what our mission is and how we care about getting these kids to grow.
"The work of making kids good citizens, respectful and responsible for their actions, is really important to me."
And, maybe there is a secret to his success. His wife supported him and his children either joined his program or made friends through it.
"I've had total family support ... and I think that's what's kept me going. Even now, my grandkids are getting involved."
Honoree: Ron Bright, retired drama teacher, Castle High School
THE ALLIANCE AWARDS
Presented by: Hawai'i Alliance for Arts Education
Entertainment: Loyal Garner, Brother Noland, Yasmeen, Lei'ohu Ryder, Kamaki Kanahele, Abe Weinstein, Uluwehi Guerrero and more
Time: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Place: Hawaii Theatre
Tickets: $25 to $35
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