Gavin Kayner was the kind of teacher who taught with a puppet on his hand, spoke with theatrical flair, and wore funny hats. When his students worked up the nerve to try out for school plays about famous dead people, they were usually plays he wrote.
"It taught that they may not be living right now, but they did work, cry, have babies, love, hate, just like the students do," he said.
Kayner has communicated through drama for years. So when he retired in 2002 from 26 years of working in Amphitheater Public Schools, it seemed natural that he work at being a full-fledged playwright.
On March 12, Kayner and a cast will present a staged reading of his new work, "Busy Signals" - a drama about the havoc that can come when people don't communicate clearly.
"I spent my life trying to communicate to young people about ideas - not just two plus two is four but about being good people - and now I'm writing a play about communication," he said.
The reading is at 7:30 p.m. at the Temple of Music Art, and should probably have an R rating for language, Kayner said. Tickets are $5.
Kayner began his Amphi career in 1976 as a teacher at Holoway Elementary School. After nearly a decade there, he worked with the district's Career Ladder program, and then served as assistant principal at Keeling and Prince elementary schools.
He began teaching at Copper Creek in 1988.
He found that teaching works well with writing plays, storybooks and poetry because summers are free and children provide good writing material.
"First of all, I'm a writer," he said. "I became a teacher and found out that I could do it pretty well through becoming a teacher."
Kayner taught through stories, encouraging his students to turn simple six-plus-six-is-12 math problems into stories about 12 monsters or other engaging characters.
He wrote plays for his students, including "Civil Wrong Righted" about women's suffrage and "Drum Major for Freedom" about Martin Luther King Jr.
He looked forward to a time when he would be able to engage fully in writing, though.
"When I was teaching, that's all I could do," he said. "I carried the kids in my head and heart 24 hours a day. I carried it with me all the time, worried about them, wondered about them, about just the right thing I could say to this kid or that."
Now his playwright phase is taking over his retired life.
"You've only got so much time," he said.
Last year, he presented a staged reading of his play "Thumbs," about a college student trying to understand why he has physically harmed himself. Also that year, the teen theater group Nathalia commissioned him to write "Trappings," about outer vestments getting in the way of people seeing each other for who they are.
Kayner recently finished a play about euthanasia, called "Grace Notes."
"I have plays in contests across the country," he said. "The Arizona Theater Company has 'Thumbs.' I don't want to feel cheated when I'm 85. I don't want to look back and think, 'Gosh, I wish I would have done this.'"
"Busy Signals" involves a radio talk show host and a series of main characters who talk to each other but don't hear each other.
"Key phrases are 'talk to me' and 'listen to me,'" he said. "I'm suggesting in this play that if we learn how to do that, our relationships are probably going to be a lot better."
Kayner said he has a few connections in Hollywood and plans to seriously pursue getting his plays into the "big, wide world."
"Hopefully a production company will pick one up. We're well on our way," he said.
Tickets for the March 12 performance can be purchased by calling 297-3317.