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

Shari Barrett

Registered Critic, Writer, Publicist

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.

Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. After teaching in local secondary schools, working in marketing for several studios, writing, directing, producing, and performing in productions for several non-profit theaters, Shari now dedicates her time and focuses her skills as an independent publicist to "get the word out" about smaller theaters throughout the Los Angeles area.

As a founding member of the LA Stage Alliance Leadership Council Task Force, she and reps from theaters throughout the city worked together to articulate a vision for the theatre community of Greater Los Angeles.

Shari has received recognition from the City of Los Angeles for her dedication of heart and hand to the needs of friends, neighbors and fellow members of society for her devotion of service to the people of Los Angeles, and is honored to serve the theatre world in her hometown.

Currently she is the Publicist and a member of the Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse.