Curtain going up: Regional high school's Kate Murray
If you talk to Kate Murray about something she's passionate about - performing, singing, or teaching - you leave feeling as if you've just tapped the surface. She is so enthusiastic as she rattles off stories that you leave wanting more.
There's the feeling there is much to learn about the energetic head of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) drama department. Married to Robert Murray, she is not only a director and performer; she is also a dancer, writer, musician, theater teacher, and a certified special education teacher as well.
"I am a singer, songwriter, and a published poet, and I'm always looking for opportunities to perform my songs," Ms. Murray says. "Last year, [MVRHS principal] Stephen Nixon and I sang at a ceremony for David Brand here at the school. I sometimes sing with the Highland Rovers who are based out of Connecticut, I have written songs with Christopher Robin before, and I have performed with the Marshall Tucker Band, which is a southern rock band."
Ms. Murray says that her greatest influence in theater is her mother, Virginia Poole, who died in March 2008. In the 1970s, Virginia Poole was an early and outspoken supporter of the MVRHS theater program.
From the tone of her voice and her look of admiration, it's easy to see Ms. Murray's pride in her mother. "She was very invested in the arts, especially the dramatic arts," she says. "Subsequently, the people she introduced me to added to what had already influenced me. The more I saw, the more I wanted to do.
Although she has appeared in many plays, she remembers one in particular: "I was in Mrs. Hollister's fourth grade class at the West Tisbury School, and Chris Abott, who was an assistant teacher, decided to do an adaptation of 'The Headless Horseman.'" She laughs and says, "I vividly remember the only thing I was excited about was wearing a long gorgeous dress."
Ms. Murray was born on the Island, but explains, "I went away to school in the sixth grade while my mother was going back to school. When she finished, I went to boarding school at Walnut Hill for two years, and then transferred to Lawrence Academy. Afterwards I got my bachelor of fine arts at Boston University and a masters in education at Lesley University."
Ms. Murray describes her gifted family: "My brother, Donald Poole, is a phenomenal bass player. He went to school to learn how to build guitars and amps. So musically we are alike," she says. "I also have a sister who is a teacher of the deaf. She is also very theatrical, but in a different way: in order to sign and be an interpreter you have to be. She taught me how to sign when I was five."
Ms. Murray was drawn to special education after working at Project Headway on the Island, where she was encouraged to return to school for a master's degree. "My older sister (Joan Nash), knew at the age of nine that she wanted to be a teacher of the deaf, so she began to volunteer at Camp Jabberwocky when she was a kid, so I got encouragement from all over," she says.
In her past six years at the regional high school, Ms. Murray has several roles: in her classroom in the back of the Performing Arts Center (PAC), on the stage producing theatrical shows, and as the managing director of PAC.
"On alternating days," she says, "I teach classes and manage the PAC, doing administration, scheduling, and organization. I also teach three classes which include musical theater production, which I co-teach with Janis Wightman, head of the performing arts department, Theater I, and Theater II."
Ms. Murray has created a large and successful theater program. Robert Colby, theater education director for the graduate program at Emerson College, recently recognized the program by nominating it for the American High School Theater Festival at Festival Fringe in Edinburgh Scotland in 2010. "This is such an honor," Ms. Murray says. "There are around 800 schools that enter for the nomination process."
Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, and one of its largest festivals takes places every August. Ms. Murray and the 16 students involved in the production are currently writing an original production for the festival. "We are writing a family musical so that we will draw in large audiences," she says.
Explaining the logistics of the trip, Ms. Murray says, "We're there for two weeks, and we see theater all over Festival Fringe, and on any given day there are hundreds of plays going on. We're there to perform and see others perform. It's very educational. When I went for five days during the summer with the other directors I couldn't even take in all the information and experience that was all around me."
Describing why she does all that she does and the long hours and dedication that are required, she says, "By being a teacher I'm trying to teach and develop students' skills in my classes. My advice to students who want a career in performing arts is to stay healthy, be disciplined, and study your craft and know it well."
Caitlyn Clark is a senior at MVRHS and an intern at The Times.