The work of Ron Bright is familiar to anyone who has a passing acquaintance with the Thespian Festival of a certain era. At regular intervals beginning in 1984, his energetic musicals and his patented island-flavored welcome ceremonies were featured as the Festival’s opening night main stage event. Much-loved as a teacher and director by his students, their parents, and his colleagues and administrators, Mr. Bright through his work on the Thespian Festival stage extended his reach as an inspirational leader and role model to include his fellow theatre educators as well.
“Ron has made outstanding contributions to the Thespian Society and EdTA for many years,” said past EdTA President Mary Martin at the time of his Hall of Fame induction. “Without question his productions at our festival have opened a lot of eyes to what educational theatre can be.”
When he was young, it was Mr. Bright’s intention to spend his life as an accountant. Studying depreciation by day and playing piano in a notorious Honolulu strip club at night, he decided partway through college that he was better suited to a career in the performing arts. He got his first teaching job in 1956, and in his second year he moved to Castle High School at Kanoehe and began laying the foundation for an outstanding theatre program. He has been at Castle ever since, teaching, directing seventy-two major productions, and helping thousands of kids become accomplished singers and dancers and, not incidentally, responsible adults. At least eight of his former students have worked or are working in Broadway shows.
Along the way he acquired a master’s degree in education and an extensive résumé of professional accomplishments and community service activities that includes EdTA’s President’s Award, a citation from the governor of Hawaii, and a state educator award from the Milken Foundation. He was appointed to the state Foundation on Culture and the Arts Commission. In 1984 he helped establish the Castle Performing Arts Learning Center, which served as the prototype for thirty similar programs, in all disciplines, throughout Hawaii.
Mr. Bright made it clear that he believed his success as an educator and director had to do with his willingness to use a four-letter word that isn’t heard very much in educational settings: love. “Love, care, trust, and nurturing” he responded when asked what is the most important contribution an educator can make to the well-being of children. “You’ve gotta be there for the kids, understand how they hurt and how they succeed. I flat-out refuse to allow a kid to fail.”