There was that time, back in September of 2014, when Amy Gray was four days away from leaving her home in Tampa for a new, totally unknown life in Denver. The stage veteran – actress, singer, changeling – had wrapped assistant director duties on Jobsite Theatre’s The Last Night at Ballyhoo. Her work was essentially done; the play was just about to open.
On Thursday, one day before the curtain went up, Gray was injured in a minor auto accident. She was OK, but she was bruised, and as such was probably going to have to miss opening night.
Friday morning, however, Ballyhoo’s lead actress suddenly took ill – and had to be hospitalized for observation. “And they weren’t going to let her out until the next morning,” Gray explains.
What to do?
The show debuted with its assistant director – bent and hurting, and just days away from one of the most momentous moves of her life – onstage in the key role of Lala Levy. “I knew the lines,” Gray says. “I kept the book in hand, but I knew the show, so I only had to glance once in a while.”
According to Gray, it all went over pretty well, considering “I was still in shock. The next morning, I couldn’t move. Thank God I was still in shock or I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
The “real” Lala returned for the next night’s performance, and on Monday Amy Gray – suffering, it turned out, from a herniated disc – was on the road to Colorado with her partner, Mike Crawford.
Giving all for the sake of the production is part of Amy Elizabeth Gray’s character. Since 2007, when she landed her first role at Jobsite, she’s been in dozens of shows, on both sides of the bay, and to this day can remember the name of every single cast member of every single production. She’s a team player.
She continues to spend part of each year here, performing with her Jobsite “family.” Gray is in Meteor Shower, the Steve Martin-penned comedy that opens the theater’s new season tonight.
Gray says she and the other three members of the cast genuinely enjoy one another’s company. “You can do shows sometimes where things can get a little testy, or you might rub someone the wrong way or whatever,” she reveals. “We’ve just had a blast this whole time. We laugh through most of rehearsal – not just when we’re doing the show! And it has made this entire process so worth it.”
She still lives in Colorado. Technically.
The 2014 Denver move was necessitated by Mike’s job. “We’d gone over all the pros and cons,” she remembers. “But I like a challenge. I like experiencing new places.”
She figured she’d find her place in the city’s theater community.
“But once I got there … that’s when you realize ‘oh, I’m no longer in my 20s, able to – or even wanting to – compete with all these twenty-somethings.’
“You’re hitting the ground with nothing, and you’re trying to prove yourself. Nobody knows you. It took me two years to book a show out there.”
She’s a designated artistic associate for Jobsite, which means she reports back to Artistic Director David Jenkins on new or interesting plays she comes across, and trends in theater. She’s part of the process when it’s time to select shows for a new Jobsite season. That’s some serious trust among family members.
Most importantly, she returns every so often to perform. Gray, who’s turned into one of Jobsite’s most versatile and watchable performers, has appeared in Silence! The Silence of the Lambs Musical, Cloud Nine, The Threepenny Opera and a couple of others since she became a Colorado Rockie.
With a freshly-minted BA in Theater from the University of Kentucky, Pittsburgh native Amy Gray arrived in the bay area in 1999. She didn’t know anyone and had no thespian connections whatsoever.
She was embraced by community theater – the likes of St. Pete Little Theatre, Golden Apple, the Francis Wilson Playhouse – and eventually graduated to roles with professionals Gorilla Theatre, American Stage, Asolo and Stageworks.
Jobsite, known for its offbeat, experimental nature, was the one Gray had her eyes on from the beginning. She auditioned numerous times before getting cast in August Strindberg’s A Dream Play in 2007.
“They were doing the shows that I thought I best fit,” she explains. “Even though I do a lot of musicals, their envelope-pushing plays were more up my alley than anyone else was really doing. And once I got in … well, then you’re in. And it becomes a family. They really did make a home for me.”
Notes Artistic Director Jenkins: “She was perfect for a few things in a row, and we built a rapport from there. It’s one of the things I love most about being part of an ensemble theater – we get to develop these long-term collaborations, and over the course of those we develop our own shorthands and ways of unique working with one another.”
In John Cameron Mitchell’s transgender rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Gray played the all-important role of Yitzhak, the onstage foil for lead character Hedwig (assayed by Spencer Myers). Jobsite’s 2013 run was so well-received, the show was mounted again five years later.
“What I loved with Hedwig was seeing the growth in both of us – but really, in Spencer – between our first go in 2013 to the second one. It was just really nice to see how the years can change you, and your perspective.
“I don’t feel like the years changed my perspective on Yitzhak, but I was able to bring to the table some more performance value that I didn’t have in 2013. Vocally, things that I had found in the last few years, things that I didn’t realize I could do then, I can do now.”
Things aren’t quite so rocky in Denver these days; Gray has appeared in three shows out there so far, and there are others in her immediate future. She and Crawford will head back west after Meteor Shower ends its run Sept. 29.
She has a day gig in Denver, the same one she had here: She’s a freelance marketing professional. “The artistic side and the business side,” she laughs, “they fight for who’s in charge.”
Jenkins, for his part, praises her versatility. “Not just onstage (which she is: she can do comedy, drama, period, modern, musicals, et cetera) but in the back office, where she has a really keen understanding of the ‘business we call show.’ She’s a great photographer, and she understands marketing and PR.”
Juggling income streams is often essential for actors and other creative types (as independent contractors, they often don’t know where the next paycheck is coming from).
Amy Elizabeth Gray has been pragmatic as far back as she can remember.
In college, she says, “I had five different majors that I switched around in. I think I always wanted theater, but I was like ‘No! I have to do something that will pay the bills.’ I was interested in a lot of things, but nothing ever held my heart the way theater did.”
Details and tickets here.