Local Santa Cruz is thrilled to feature Cathy Warner – one of the five Honorees being celebrated at the 22nd Annual Gail Rich Awards.
Held at the Rio Theatre on March 13, 2018, the “Gailies” is a free annual event produced by the Arts Council Associates. The awards ceremony is named after the late Gail Rich, whose inspiring advocacy for the arts is reflected in the many artists who continue to enrich the culture and community of Santa Cruz through their creative work. This year’s talented Honorees represent fashion, photography, literature, music, and theater.
In the spotlight for theater is Cathy Warner, who is being honored for her outstanding work in arts education. Cathy has been Harbor High School’s Theatrical Teacher for over three decades, inspiring generations of students to engage with all aspects of performing arts; from directing and dancing to playwrighting and production design. Her approach gives students the opportunity to become empowered, share creative intention, and learn to function as a professional community.
Cathy’s work defines how the power of the arts transforms young people into healthy human beings. She has seen students from every social clique on campus come together to collaborate in a welcoming, playful classroom environment. In the process of creating something tangible as a collective, her students learn invaluable life skills, develop a respectful sense of self and others, and cultivate passion, identity, and leadership that they carry with them out into the world.
The joy of being part of an artistic journey and supportive community stays embedded in Cathy’s students long after they graduate. Many have gone on to pursue work internationally, including professional acting (like Parks & Rec’s Adam Scott) hair and makeup, ballroom dancing, and opera singing; to name a few. Many also remain closely connected (one group that formed around 30 years ago still has an annual reunion).
In addition to facilitating five theater and dance productions a year at Harbor High, Cathy shares her knowledge of art in the classroom and the artistic process at a summer intensive for artists and educators at the County Office of Education.
And now, curtain-up! Read on for an interview with Cathy Warner.
Local Santa Cruz: Please share about your background – what led you to become a theatrical teacher?
Cathy Warner: I started teaching 37 years ago – 35 years ago I began running the Theatre Arts program at Harbor. A few years later, I developed a Dance program there as well.
I think I have always known I was an artist – have always been drawn to one creative outlet or another throughout my life. While growing up, I resonated in all of the performing arts at one time or another: played piano as a child, later taught myself to play flute and guitar; studied ballet as a child, later fell in love with Modern Dance when I had the opportunity to take classes from Bella Lewitsky – a brilliant dancer/choreographer in LA at the time. I also took two years of a wonderful Dance Production class at my high school – where I worked with a very inspiring teacher who helped me realize that choreography and dance were part of my calling.
Theater has always been part of the fabric of my life in some form or another – whether it took the form of attending plays, or the fantasy play as a child that organically became “improv” as I grew older, or the plays and musicals my friends and I created and staged for anyone who was willing to watch. I have always been an avid reader, deeply in love with stories and plays. I had one friend in particular who was as passionate about theatre as I was. I recall one afternoon – we were about 10 or 11 years old – when we decided to spend one glorious summer afternoon reading Midsummer Nights Dream aloud – I played 10 parts, she played 11. We both loved it! It isn’t really surprising that we both eventually pursued careers as Theatre artists…As a teenager my fascination with Theatre lead me to take several Drama classes at school, participate in productions and attend a wonderful arts camp called the Idylwild School of Music and the Arts for 2 summers. The opportunity to be in an environment surrounded by artists of all types was utterly thrilling- and inspiring. I had never been happier and in my element, with so many other people who experienced and processed the world like I did. I also continued my Theatre studies at UCSC where I took several studio classes– both during my undergraduate and post BA studies.
The year after I did my student teaching at Harbor, the opportunity to teach Theatre was offered to me by the then principal of Harbor, Marty Krovetz. He had seen some of my work and believed in my ability to grow a strong Theatre program. I have been there doing just that ever since.
What is the process of bringing your artistic visions into reality on a stage?
This is quite a complex question as the program at Harbor is student-driven. I believe profoundly in the power of the artistic voice – and one of my primary priorities as a Theatre Arts teacher is to cultivate that awareness and awaken that ability in all of my students. To that end, our Theatre program is structured to teach all of the basics to students in the context of technique classes modeled after a “studio” class, and provide students with opportunities throughout the year to apply those skills in an array of productions. Less experienced students are mentored by more experienced students. They train over time for positions of leadership in numerous ways. I train student directors, student designers, students choreographers, etc – my job is to help them grow their artistic voice, support them realizing their collective vision with each show and facilitate the process of their work. This means teaching them the ability to govern themselves, work at meaningful communication, time management, honing the ability to see beyond the surface of things and stretch themselves, etc.
What inspires you most about working with youth through the medium of theater?
I believe the artistic process is a powerful and innately human way in which we process and make meaning about the world around us. Witnessing the transformation of 1000’s of individuals over the last three and a half decades has been truly thrilling. I could have not imagined a more inspiring way to resonate in myself as an artist and educator than to be able to share my passion with this exceptional community of kids!
How has connecting with the Santa Cruz community influenced your creative work and life in general?
I love attending live performances of all types – and am always inspired by the creative endeavors of other artists. Though I have done some performance work in the SC community, my primary focus has been working with the community of students at Harbor – and those from other schools who have been part of the Escapade Dance Company – which I helped create 20 + years ago. Watching students graduate and participate in the larger SC community and beyond has been utterly thrilling – whether in the form of their local artistic offerings or those who have become professional actors, choreographers, or designers.
How do you envision your work with local youth and theater evolving over time?
Skies the limit! I am always open to exploring new avenues and am excited to continuing to grow artistically throughout my life. Who knows what exciting possibilities may await!
See Cathy’s students on stage in the Harbor High School production of “Guys and Dolls”, Spring 2018.
22nd Annual Gail Rich Awards
Tuesday, March 13 at 7:30pm
Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz