Hair Today, Hair Tomorrow: Kay Gray Loves Her Backstage Role
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
There’s a lot to like about the look of Grand Canyon University’s theatrical productions, for which no visual detail is too small.
Assistant Dean Bill Symington and Dean Claude Pensis oversee the scenic design and lighting, respectively, consistently putting a high gloss on aging Ethington Theatre. Nola Yergen’s costumes invariably dress up any era to perfection. And Kay Gray’s work on hair and makeup is award-winning in quality.
With those four bringing their considerable talents and commitment to bear on every show, it’s no wonder that the restart of the theatre program has been such a success in only three years. The second production of the fourth season — Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” — opens a two-weekend run on Friday night.
Gray, 44, who has been doing hair and makeup for GCU shows since 1997, typifies the whatever-it-takes philosophy that permeates the program. She underwent a double knee replacement in May, missing nine weeks from her day job as a student services advisor for the University.
She didn’t miss a show, however. She worked from a wheelchair on last season’s finale, the musical “H.M.S. Pinafore” in April, and she needed crutches for this season’s opener, “Twelfth Night,” in August.
It wasn’t easy, but you won’t hear a word of complaint. For her, a play is play.
“It’s necessary for me to create and to have fun,” says Gray, who was a professional hairstylist for 13 years and graduated from GCU in 2006 with a theatre degree. “This is my creative outlet.”
Gray and student Alison Bauer won GCU’s only ariZoni award — the local version of Broadway’s Tony Awards — for 2012-13 for their hair and makeup for “Pinafore,” a demanding production with a huge cast and a wide range of ages in roles.
“For the role of an older person, you have to style them maybe 10 to 15 years ahead of the age of the person,” Gray says, sharing a tip. “That’s because an older person generally isn’t going to change once they settle on a style.”
Yergen’s costumes incorporated the Union Jack in an assortment of different ways, and the look was spectacular.
“I’ll look first at her costumes,” Gray says. “There’s generally an era with any show. Then, when the cast starts run-throughs, I’ll notice how each person plays their part and also do some research online.”
Pensis says there’s no substitute for that kind of preparation.
Gray is “meticulous in her approach and exacting in her execution,” he says. “She has a huge range of skills that makes her invaluable.”
Only two days after her graduation from GCU, Gray was hired to teach theatre at North Pointe Preparatory Academy in Phoenix. She “absolutely fell in love with it” and stayed six years, putting on an impressive list of productions that included “Our Town,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Godspell,” “Into the Woods,” “A Christmas Carol, “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” Five of her theatre students went on to Grand Canyon.
It helped to have learned from the best at GCU, she says.
“Claude taught me that it needs to be good, period, and not qualified as ‘good for high school,’” says Gray, who is married to Jeff Gray, a former music major at GCU who has worked at the University’s Peoria site for eight years and was in the alumni-studded cast of “The Pirates of Penzance” in the fall of 2010.
Kay Gray’s ariZoni actually was her second for GCU. She also won in 1999 for her work on “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
Those were glory years at Ethington — but so are these.
“The growth in the past four years of our arts program is incredible,” Gray says. “The caliber of students in the program is amazing…. There’s a lot of natural talent and a willingness to work.”
Performances of “Ah, Wilderness!” are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call the Ethington Theatre box office at 639.8880.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].