Painted Bride Art Center founder Gerry Givnish remembers Spalding Gray as a not very talkative, observant, gentle, and cordial off stage. On stage Givnish described him as dynamic and overflowing with ideas and creativity.
Former program director, Chris Hayes, first brought Gray to the Bride’s stage in 1976 when the Painted Bride was housed in a bridal salon storefront on South Street. Gray continued to perform annually until 1986. Just as the Bride represented a new type of artist and artwork, Gray was a representative of a new theater movement sweeping the country at the time. This more experimental type of theater allowed the roles of director, actor, and playwright to be interchangeable. Improvisation increased and new themes featuring current events were incorporated into the art form.
A monologist/storyteller, Gray would sit on a three foot platform with a glass of water and a microphone, detailing his life experiences. Gray’s performances were mostly received well by audiences; however some felt he was self—absorbed. Most monologists were not sharing their life stories, which seemed too personal and self—centered to some.
Despite this misconception, critics of Spalding did not realize his genius because he was not himself on stage. Gray transformed himself into a character he created from his life experiences. While the difference between Spalding Gray the man and Spalding Gray the character were subtle, there was a difference. Critics judged his work as pandering on stage, but Spalding noted that there was a relationship between him and his material, and the audience was a third party looking in on that relationship.
In 1999, Spalding Gray appeared at Painted Bride as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations. A few years later, he took his life, which may have led many to believe that his 1999 performance was his last at the Bride. Fortunately, Kathie Russo, Gray’s widow, and Lucy Sexton, a dance-performance artist have made it possible for not only his legacy, but his work and spirit to live on with Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell as we celebrate our 40th anniversary.
This excerpt was compiled from an interview with Bride founder Gerry Givnish, and an article written by Amelia Longo.