Layton Christian Academy theater club flourishes under new leadership

Thursday , May 18, 2017 - 5:00 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

LAYTON — There were fewer than a dozen high school students interested in theater and drama when Michael Wright arrived at Layton Christian Academy five years ago.

Wright wasn’t going to stand for that.

“Without arts, truthfully, I wouldn’t really have a place in life,” he said. “I’m not a science guy. I’m not a math guy. I just don’t know how it kind of gets eliminated. It’s so important.”

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This year, about 70 high school students — 32 percent of the entire high school’s enrollment — were involved in what Wright has named the Layton Christian Drama Company. That includes enrollment in two theater classes and a theater tech course.

The group staged performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” earlier this month.

Wright said they used to sell about 30 tickets for each performance when he first arrived at LCA in 2012. Now they sell about 100.

At a school more well-known for its athletic programs, Wright is pushing to make a name for the theater kids.

“I would like to think we could be the flagship program of this school, like any head coach would want,” he said.

Jaden Nandkeshwar is a ninth-grade student who played Rona Lisa Peretti in the play. She has been singing since age 6 and said Wright is like the cast’s “second dad.”

“With Mr. Wright, he makes us feel like we’re professionals and this is a professional show,” she said. “Like we’re on Broadway in a real theater.”

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Wright was an athlete-turned-theater-kid in high school. He filmed pilot episodes for a television show in Puerto Rico, but when it wasn’t picked up, he moved to Southern California, where he continued auditioning and doing stand-up comedy.

“I was a full-time actor and a part-time waiter,” Wright said, smiling.

Caleb Kensinger, a junior who played Vice Principal Douglas Panch, said Wright encourages them to improv, and with audience participation being a part of the show, they have to be on their toes.

“Right before you go onstage you get the worst butterflies in the world and think ‘I shouldn’t be here. What if I’m the one who skips forward three scenes or something?’ But then people start laughing at your jokes,” Kensinger said.

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Wright’s wife, Rachel, is a graduate of LCA, so the two moved back to Northern Utah. Wright went back to school to earn a degree at Weber State University and decided to apply for a job at LCA.

“Truly, I planned on coming for one year to do my student teacher thing here, but that was five, six years ago, and I’ve never really looked back,” he said.

Wright teaches physical education, health and drama, and leads the LCDC — a play on the band name AC/DC. The school funds the performances, but as more students have gotten involved and the productions have gotten more elaborate, Wright said, parents have started to volunteer their time to help.

That family atmosphere keeps students coming back, Wright said.

“Somebody once told me ‘Oh you could go to a public school where you’re a small fish in a big pond.’ Well, the great thing about this school is we’re not fish, we’re people,” he said.

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Kensinger has found joy in theater because he likes making people happy and sees the school’s performances as a way of doing that.

“People go to our plays and they see us enjoying the fact that we’re doing a play, so they enjoy it,” he said.

Nandkeshwar said while her peers might have sports or another activity like hiking, theater will always be her outlet.

“Mr. Wright is always encouraging us to pursue our dreams and I think that’s very important because when you’re in school it’s always grades, grades, grades. Get good grades and get into college,” she said. “That’s important … but I don’t know what I would do without this drama program.”

The academy’s elementary school students work with band and music teacher Rey Roa on musical numbers. Wright said he doesn’t want to step on any toes, but he’d like to put on an all-school play with elementary, middle and high school students. One idea he’s tossing around is a production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Wright also acts and assists in school events. Video on the school’s Student Life Facebook page shows him working as an event emcee, and a YouTube video shows him breaking free of a straitjacket while hanging upside down.

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Wright smiled as he explained he has also done work as a magician.

“I look at any opportunity to perform as an opportunity,” he said.

Wright said teaching and working with students is incredibly rewarding.

“The kids teach themselves, you just kind of guide them to exploit their strengths,” he said.

Assistant Administrator Karen Miller said families and students are excited about the growing program.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’ve had this vision for a long time, but haven't had the right leader to finally make it flower and expand and get the kids excited.”

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at

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