By Brian Robin
Natalie Bright Casts A Light On Her Theatre Education
Nobody can accuse Natalie Bright of senioritis. Not with a class schedule at Orange Lutheran High School chock full of such offerings as AP Government/Honors Economics, AP English Language and Composition, AP Psychology and AP Art History. You hear this and the first thing you ask is how she gets through a typical school day.
“I have no idea how I’m doing it,” she said.
To this full plate, we pile on the leadership roles in several clubs and organizations. Now, we add the Zoom auditions for shows and colleges, the upcoming SCR Teen Players production or her twice-weekly Advanced Musical Theatre class at the SCR Youth Conservatory.
Which brings us to one of the biggest time-consumers on Bright’s crowded schedule: her role as Cassidy Kramer-Lafayette in Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Along with 11-year-old Isaac Person, the 18-year-old Bright is one of two child actors from the SCR Youth Conservatory in the Obie Award-winning production, running through Feb. 26 on the Segerstrom Stage.
This means Bright shares the main stage with veterans Shannon Cochran, Jamison Jones, Tessa Auberjonois, Lea Coco, Hunter Spangler and Jess Andrews. It means she takes direction from the accomplished Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, an award-winning director. And it means Bright gets a graduate-level acting lesson every day in rehearsal and every night on stage.
Especially when she watches them seamlessly transition from their Appropriatecharacters to their characters in the other half of Voices of America—Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.
“Being able to be around such smart actors as Shannon, Tessa and Jess, their instincts are so strong,” Bright said. “I feel like it’s so hard to jump around from character to character and feel like you can stay true to your instincts. All three of them have the power and intelligence to embody two different characters with two different sets of instincts and morals and feel so strongly about each one of them.
“When I worked with them in the rehearsal process, they had reasoning and thoughtful insight into every single choice they were making. That was really empowering to me because with my age and being a woman in this industry, I feel like I always underestimate myself and my instincts.”
According to Turner Sonnenberg, Bright does underestimate her considerable skills. The director took pains to point out that both Bright and Person are a director’s dream in rehearsal: “smart creative and focused.”
“It’s important to me that Natalie and Isaac feel like vital parts of the company and not singled out because they are young,” Turner Sonnenberg said. “I treat them both like I treat all the other actors and not like they are ‘still learning.’ The truth is we are all still learning.
“Natalie is just flat out a good actor. (She’s got) Great instincts, makes smart choices and is a joy to work with.”
Bright is a conscientious actor, one who seamlessly embraces her character, 13-year-old Cassidy. In Appropriate. She barely hides the crush she has on her cousin Rhys (Spangler), embraces River (Andrews), her uncle’s girlfriend, as a surrogate big sister and seeks to put herself in the middle of the adult mayhem swirling around her. And the fact Bright is doing this in the maelstrom that is Jacobs-Jenkins’ dark dramedy about race, class and money hasn’t escaped her in the least.
“This is super-fun for me,” she said. “I would say my character is a lot less taxing than the load everyone else carries. I think that I can sometimes forget that this show is not just about these topics, but it’s about what we’re going to learn about these topics. I think that brings a level of hope and element of light to the discussion that doesn’t have to be so heavy. It can be hopeful that we can tell this story and bring change and bring light.”
Bright began acting at age 7. She’s constantly observing, constantly seeking feedback in an effort to improve. Along with numerous roles in SCR Teen and Summer Players productions, she’s played one of the Cratchit daughters in three productions of A Christmas Carol: Belinda in 2016 and Martha in 2021 and 2022. You can also see Bright in a Minute Maid commercial and several short films.
Bright’s conscientious approach manifests itself when she describes the audition process for Appropriate with Turner Sonnenberg and SCR Casting Director Joanne DeNaut. Bright said that this was an opportunity she’s waited a long time for and was “crossing my fingers that something like this would come along and I could be ready for it”—acting in a repertory main-stage production.
“Walking in, I wanted to ensure I took this seriously and didn’t rely on the fact I was part of the Youth Conservatory,” Bright said. “I didn’t want to rely on that. I wanted to make sure I put the effort in and that I deserve to be there. Seeing the talent around me pushed me harder and intimidated me because I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish that.
“Even if I haven’t accomplished it, I feel like I learned more than I would have learned in any other form. There’s something about watching talented actors and their process that helped inform me about my own process.”
And Bright makes doing it look easy.