Spotlight Series: Meet Kalinda Gray, An Actor and Fantasy Party Organizer Who Moonlights as a Salem Witch Trials Researcher and Historian

This Spotlight focuses on Kalinda Gray, an actor I first encountered onstage playing Marilyn Monroe all the way to Magenta in the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Maverick Theatre, a place close to her heart. Away from the stage, but still very much a part of the world of theatre magic, Kalinda’s company Wishing Well Entertainment and Parties creates high-quality, professional character and artist event entertainment with a wide array of genres and themes for both adults and children, and she moonlights as an independent Salem "witch" trials researcher and historian. So how is she dealing with the shutdown of The Crucible in which she was featured as Elizabeth Proctor?

Shari Barrett (SB):  What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Kalinda Gray (Kalinda): I've been in the SoCal theatre scene for about 15 years, performing on local stages such as the Hollywood Bowl, Sacred Fools, SCR, Segerstrom, the Dorie, STAGES, the MET, the Whitefire Theater, and the Maverick Theater. I've been lucky to be a part of several West Coast regional premieres (including Kate Monster in Avenue Q) and some fantastically fun world premieres (including Cunegonde in Candide at Sacred Fools, Ann Darrow in King Kong: Eighth Wonder Of The World and the Storyteller in a new stage version of The Hobbit at the Maverick), as well as a few tours here and there. I'm also an original member of the All Puppet Players (now based in Arizona), which is innovative puppetry theatre best described as Monty Python meets the Muppets meets Ozzy Osbourne with a healthy dollop of improv thrown in for good measure.

In addition to theatre, I also have done face character work for Universal Studios and currently work in film, television, commercials, and voiceover; my other source of joy is my company, Wishing Well Entertainment and Parties. I wanted to create high-quality, professional character and artist event entertainment with a wide array of genres and themes for both adults and children. Along with a talented group of longtime friends and past coworkers from theatre and theme park entertainment, I've managed and/or performed at over 5600 events since we opened in 2012, and our work has been featured in publications and news media around the world. I've been very lucky to meet some amazing people and performers along the way, and it's been a pretty cool journey so far!

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show? 

Kalinda: On Thursday, March 12th, we had just wrapped up our first-run thru of The Crucible, which was scheduled to open March 20th at the Maverick Theater in which I was cast as Elizabeth Proctor. Press photos were scheduled to be taken a few days after the shutdown happened. The Crucible has become an integral part of my life since when I'm not onstage or filming or running my company, I actually moonlight as an independent Salem "witch" trials researcher and historian. I've been studying the trials since I was a kid, and venture out to Salem about twice a year for research in the surrounding areas. I love the period because there is always something new to uncover or theorize about from this terrible moment in American history. This past Halloween week, I even stayed in John Proctor's old home in nearby Peabody, Massachusetts and am attempting to help its owner with dendrochronology research - I have always felt very close to this piece, and to the real lives of the characters portrayed in Arthur Miller's work, and with the writer himself.

This was a dream show and project of mine, with a truly wonderful cast, mixed with actors from film, SCR, New York stages, etc; definitely one of the absolute best ensembles with whom I have ever worked. Some of us thought we might still be okay to open as of that Thursday evening, but over the weekend, it quickly became evident that we were not going to open in a few days’ time.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

Kalinda: Our director, Brian Newell emailed the entire team on Sunday evening (March 15th) and we gathered once more the following evening for our final costume fittings. For that last cast meeting, Brian spoke with our cast to let us know that we were indefinitely postponed, and communicated the options we have for the future. As a cast, each of us are on board to continue with the show, and keeping ourselves ready for when it eventually goes up. There's a peaceful and kind solidarity with our cast and team, made up of longtime friends and people I've just met. It's very special, and it made it especially poignant to be there that evening taking in all of this news with the rest of them, each in our own way. Life was actually bigger than, well, life. I have a feeling we'll all remember where we were when the reality of all of this first hit us. We are living in a truly historic time.

(SB): Absolutely we are living in historic times, much as John Proctor did. Do you know if plans are in place to present The Crucible at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

Kalinda: Our director has been fantastically optimistic, believes in us, and has been a true champion behind getting this show up at some point. I feel that it's an important piece in any given day or time period, but - once we come back from this - I think that it will be especially potent and meaningful for an audience to experience. We are learning to not take things for granted. We are experiencing separation from those we love, and the inner turmoil of shedding guilt and finding strength and peace on one's own. We're already seeing the effects of discrimination against certain people in our world due to this terrible pandemic. I feel that all are lessons important to share with an audience, and The Crucible touches on all of those things.

Since we were just about to open, everything is set at the theater waiting for us. It'll be like coming back to Sleeping Beauty's castle to see everything waiting patiently, frozen in time! Our costumes, wigs, props, stage, set, lights - they're all sitting there right where we left them. In the meantime, we have been conducting weekly rehearsals over Zoom so that we can SEE our cast and stay fresh on lines. We thankfully have the space clear through July, before another production will need it. If the theater isn't back up and running in some capacity before then, I'm not sure what will happen after that.

(SB):  What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

Kalinda: I did have some Fringe shows I was currently in callbacks for that have all, of course, postponed/canceled. For my business, I also had over fifty events scheduled through May that have all canceled in the past few weeks, with no future events coming in. It was overwhelming on March 12th, when things really started picking up speed and people were realizing how bad this was; I received 14 event cancellations in a matter of a few hours, and saw theaters in SoCal already canceling their own productions. It was all quite surreal.

My old group, All Puppet Players, were also planning their 10th anniversary production with a reunion show with former cast members this fall; as of right now, we're still hoping that happens. I also had a comedy web series planning to shoot this spring that is rescheduling to the fall. Just have to wait and see. And since all of the studios are shut down as well, I've had no auditions come in (except for a few voiceover roles).

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Kalinda: About a week into staying at home in self-isolation, I started seeing others in the theater world arrange groups together for staged readings via Zoom and Skype. The first one I did was Steel Magnolias which I haven't read in years. I loved the experience. This has been a perfect opportunity to study films, revisit favorite pieces, discover new works of art, take virtual trips of museums around the world, etc. I'm also starting to see agency and casting director calls for projects on television/theatre be virtually open to all online. That is a fantastic idea, and I will be eager to see if this changes the course of casting processes for the future.

I'm also in the process of putting together stories each day for the Maverick Theater's Facebook page to post in correlation with The Crucible (which we hope still opens), connecting the characters of the play with the real-life locations and people and on-site history that I've researched throughout the years. I wouldn't have had time to do it before, so I'm happy for a chance to put all of my work online now.

And for my business, I recently introduced some virtual options to keep kids and adults entertained during this time period. We're sending out online character greetings and doing virtual parties and events, and I'm especially excited about our "Character Comfort Chats" in which our performers converse one-on-one with kids (and adults, if they need it!) about the current happenings in the world and take care of the hard questions and answers so that parents/other adults can take a break. I'm currently working on even more virtual character entertainment options for "bigger kids" too (like Marilyn Monroe suddenly dialing in to a Zoom business meeting to liven things up, etc.).

(SB): You certainly know how to make lemonade out of lemons! What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

Kalinda: I feel that we artists feel, process, and exhibit emotions genuinely and intensely, and that leads us to subconsciously absorb so much of the world around us. I've spoken with many friends over phone or messaging the past few weeks, and a lot of them have echoed the same sentiments, "I am so used to being busy, and would usually have so much energy to start a new project that I'm excited about. Now is my chance to do it, and I'm SO TIRED!" This sudden change of life really takes a toll on one's psyche as well as physically. So, don't feel pressured to create that next big masterpiece, or feel guilty for seemingly doing nothing. You ARE - you're enduring a historical time. Take care of yourself and treasure the time with your loved ones at home. Be kind to yourself and take each day at a time, so that your soul is rested and rejuvenated for the future. We'll need you here to tell your story in the best way possible when our world blooms back to life.

This article first appeared on Broadway World.


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To read Part 3 of this series, please click here.

One of the wilder interpretation of the history of the assassination must surely be The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald Or, The Most Unnatural Murder and Dastardly Assassination of John F. Kennedy by that Bloodthirsty Villain Lee Harvey Oswald (or someone else), as represented by our best hand-carved Marionettes and life-like Mannequins of Choicest Linden Wood.

Conceived, written and directed by Vít Horejš and performed by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, this 2017 production at La MaMa Experimental Theater was part Howdy-Doody Show part Greek Tragedy with nine puppeteer-performers, a chorus of a dozen demonic ventriloquist dummies and a cast of over 50 Marionettes.

The whimsy one normally expects from puppetry was apparent in portraying the John Kennedy puppet a knight in shining armor, Jackie as a royal princess, and Joe Kennedy a King. Lyndon Johnson was depicted as a cook, John Connelly in cowboy regalia and Castro as a boasting spirit with an insanely long beard.

Oswald was more recognizable, garbed as seen in the infamous photo taken in the backyard of their home on Neely Street by Marina, with Oswald holding the rifle that would kill Kennedy and the pistol that was used to kill Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit some 45 minutes after the assassination.

The work touched on numerous conspiracy theories but committed to none of them, nor did it limit itself to the events at Dallas, but explored the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King as well.

The focus of the production seemed to be that as the characters on stage were manipulated by the puppeteers so destiny moved the historical figures towards their historical fates.

A assortment of musical productions have endeavored to capture the essence and consequences of the assassination. In 1983 Leslie Bricusse and Allan J. Friedman opened One Shining Moment: A musical Celebration of John F. Kennedy. Destined to be reworked often up through 2012 the multi-media production used actual footage to display the Kennedys world from the start of his presidential bid until November of '63.

In 1997 Dublin, Ireland saw the opening of JFK: A Musical Drama, music by Will Holt, with book and lyrics by Holt and Tom Sawyer. The hope was to take the show to the Great White Way, which was not an impossibility as in 1970. Holt and Gary William Friedman were the talents behind the hit show The Me Nobody Knows, one of the first rock musicals to reach Broadway.

The show opened with the widowed Jackie informing the audience that she intended to tell them the story of her husband, before the historians "get it wrong."

The musical concerned itself with the struggle of the three Kennedy sons – Joe, John and Bobby to live up to their father's ambitions for them. Later their struggle would be to break free of those ambitions. The play hints that John's fate was sealed by his decision to withdraw from Vietnam, a favorite myth put forth by the conspiracymongers.

What the CT community point to in substantiating their claim that Kennedy was ready to pull the US forces out of Vietnam is an interview with Walter Cronkite on September 2, 1963 in which Kennedy made the following statement:

“I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government [of South Vietnam] to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it.”

You'll find this quote in scores of pro-conspiracy books and hear it in the film JFK, but you are never given the complete quote, Kennedy goes on to say:

‘But I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don't like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a very important struggle even though it is far away.”

Would Kennedy have pulled us out of Viet Nam if he had lived is impossible to say, but prior to his assassination there was no indication on his part that he intended to do so.

JFK: A Musical Drama offered an array of historical characters on stage other than the Kennedy clan; Bull Connor, Medger Evers, LBJ, Fidel Castro, Nixon and others. After a good deal of reworking it crossed the pond to Broadway in 1998. Critics found it so scant on dialogue many regarded it more of a operetta than a musical. The show did not find favor and soon closed, inspiring one Irish wag to quip "Can you remember where you were when they shut JFK?"

But the most distinctive as well as the most insightful musical involving the assassination must go to Stephen Sondheim's Assassins with book by John Weidman. This 1990 show was concerned not with just the story of JFK, but with the phenomenon of political violence in this country. To that end it presented the history of the men and women who assassinated a U.S. President or made the attempt. Some like John Wilkes Booth are well known to most Americans others like Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, Giuseppe Zangara and Samuel Byck are not.

The final scene takes place on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where a hesitant and undecided Lee Harvey Oswald is confronted by the ghost of Booth and other assassins who entice him slowly to the window and convince him that pulling the trigger on his Mannlicher-Carcano is the answer to all his pain.

Photo: The cast of "The Magic Bullet Theory." Credit: Amani/Wood Photograph

L.A.'s Sacred Fools Theater offered a “Dr. Strangelove” redo on the events in their 2012 black comedy The Magic Bullet Theory by Terry Tocantins and Alex Zola. This misconceived mixture of political murder and merry mayhem began with Charlie Harrelson appearing before the Warren Commission with the truth about the assassination of JFK. The father of actor Woody Harrelson, Charlie Harrelson killed US District Judge Jon H. Wood. During a six hour standoff with Texas police prior to his arrest the coked out Harrelson threatened suicide and claimed to have murdered JFK. He admitted later that the statement was made in "an effort to elongate my life." Nevertheless he became a favorite suspect for the CT community. Tocantins and Zola took a Monty Python approach to the overabundance of conspiracy theories, presenting bumbling glassy knoll shooters, a dim-witted Oswald and clichéd Mafia hit men who all but sweated ragu sauce. The punch line of this show was that JFK's shooting wasn't so much the result of a conspiracy as a boo-boo. be continued