In this series, “Matriarchs leave Paly,” Verde Magazine profiles two female Palo Alto High School staff members who will be retiring at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Thirteen years, 50-plus productions and 2,000 students later, Paly Theater teacher Kathleen Woods, retiring this year, stands amid a flurry of activity as Paly’s 6th period advanced theatre students write a 10-minute script for the Young Playwrights Project, a program that allows the aspiring playwrights to write and produce their original piece. 

Since her arrival, Woods has incorporated invaluable learning experiences, like partnering with the Young Playwrights Project and attending the Cal State Thespian Festival.  From expanding the Paly Theater’s core curriculum to overseeing the building of the Performing Arts Center, Woods’s commitment to improving the theater program has allowed Paly to produce and premiere their own original productions, like choir teacher Michael Najar’s musical “Venture.” 

“I will miss the energy, excitement of just doing theater education work, which hopefully I will continue in some regard at least part-time,” Woods says. “But my retirement will allow me to focus on other priorities, like taking care of my health, and other hobbies, such as traveling.”

“I will miss the energy, excitement of just doing theater education work, which hopefully I will continue in some regard.”

— Kathleen Woods, Paly theater teacher

The successor for Woods has been determined, and Woods assures that this new teacher will bring a fresh, new perspective to Paly’s theater program.

“There are many ways in which the curriculum can be continued to be updated, ways in which the curriculum could be integrated, that I think are very exciting,” she says.

Over the course of 13 years, Woods has created a theater program unlike any other visual performing arts class. 

“Theater is unique because it uses all the arts,” Woods says. “It’s the one art that really literally brings all the different arts together. So, of course, I am a theater education evangelist. I have seen the positive impact it has on whether a student goes into theater or not. It makes no difference whatsoever.”

Motivated to continue Paly’s century-long tradition of the performing arts, Woods was instrumental in reinvigorating the oldest club on campus. Woods’ arrival at Paly was concurrent with the lapse of the school’s thespian troupe, and her first action as the theater teacher was to reactivate Paly’s original troupe number: 909.

“I brought the thespians back and started taking students to state festivals, which I don’t think has been done at Palo Alto High School before,” Woods says. “We’ve been every year except for one in the last 13 years. Students win state awards every year and learn a lot from that experience.”

Another project Woods helped to incorporate into the Paly Theater program was the Young Playwrights Project, which has given numerous playwrights the opportunity to partner with professional directors. 

“Theater is unique because it uses all the arts. It’s the one art that really literally brings all the different arts together.” 

— Kathleen Woods

“Every year, except for one, we have done this project, and it’s just a phenomenal experience from beginning to end,” Woods says. “As a teacher, I get to see the growth and progression of these students in a mere two months. I think this is one of the most indispensable projects that we have added to the curriculum.” 

As someone who has made an immense mark on the creation of Paly’s current theater program, Woods expects the future of Paly’s theater program to continue to be an honored and respected part of Paly.

“The potential is almost unlimited,” Woods says. “We have an amazing tech staff and now the building’s been open for years. That’s all really solid. They’re [the new core group of teachers] walking into a really great situation and so, hopefully, they will be able to take it further. That would be my hope.”


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