Upper East Side – May, 2014
Sheila Gray is witty, magnetic, and sassy.
One of the most influential acting coaches in New York, Sheila will make you work, actor or not. She grew up in Manhattan, the Upper East Side of the island. Her father the Gray behind the legendary, Gray’s Papaya! Surrounded by the arts and theatre, Sheila began her studies as a teenager, soon actualizing her dreams and working as actress for 15 years in New York, LA, and abroad.
In 1992, Sandra Seacat, Sheila’s very own teacher asked if she’d fill in. This is where it starts. That same year, casting director Ellen Chenowith hired Sheila to be the pre-production and on-set coach for Robert De Niro’s directorial debut “A Bronx Tale”. My favorite part of this story – and I won’t go on for long, is when she realizes her best and most valuable and fulfilling contribution, to the art is to teach.
I’ve taken class with Sheila and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I’m honored to have such a strong and vivacious woman on the site. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I. If you’re interested in learning more about Sheila and the class structure she offers, look here!
And, if you’re down with Gray’s Papaya -the last open location can be found at 2090 Broadway @ 72nd Street.
Can you recall your first audition?
“My first audition was for a musical in 6th grade. I was a drunk mother of a teenage girl and luckily I didn’t have to sing well as it was a comedic part! I staggered around the stage with a lot of gusto and basically chewed up the scenery. I had a blast. I still remember the lyrics:
“Beth Ellen and Lou what’s the matter with you?
You’re not throwing your mashed potatoes at the wall,
And hardly cursing at all,
You’re not throwing your usual every day fit.
It’s starting to bother me quite a bit!”
You are lucky you didn’t ask me this question in person or I would subject you to my singing
Was there a moment or a happening when you realized you adored the arts?
“I grew up immersed in the arts as my mother and grandmother were writers and my Grandfather was an award winning Broadway producer. My mother wrote for children and some of my first memories are of her reading wonderful books to me before bed. The Narnia books, “James and The Giant Peach”, “The Phantom Tollbooth”, “The Secret Garden” and “The Thirteen Clocks” were some of my favorites. She wrote a Raggedy Anne Movie as well as the only approved play of “The Hobbit” as well as writing for Sesame Street and The Electric Company so I grew up with her trying her stories and characters out on me. We would often act them out and sing and dance around the kitchen table as we made dinner. My Grandfather always filled me with the magic of theatre and sang me Broadway show tunes, which I still remember and cherish. I remember him singing me “ A Lullaby Of Broadway” as he tucked me in at night.
My mother also brought me to a lot of children’s theatre. Once she was so immersed in the play she didn’t notice I had crawled away. She finally found me happily sitting center –stage. The actors were kindly stepping around me as I looked up at them enthralled and at home.”
You’re originally from New York, tell me what are some of your favorite places, people and things to do here.
“My favorite thing about New York is it’s energy and diversity. I love to walk in the streets and people watch, hear the different languages and observe behavior, the use of language and dress. I love the natural drama of New York streets. I find it fascinating and inspiring. The fact that this is a walking city and people of all walks of life literally and figuratively rub elbows creates a rich texture and atmosphere found no where else, in quite the same way.
I love the culture in New York and that you can always see art, wether it is in one of the world’s great museums, break dancers on the subway, theatre, music or an installation of plantation workers made of sugar by Cara Walker in the Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg.
I love walking in Central Park and I do this almost every day now that I have my French bulldog Tallulah.
Like all good New Yorkers, I love eating out and ordering in!
Some of my favorite restaurants are Bar Pitti, Café Cluny, Gorgioni, Nobu, Noodle Pudding, Esca, Barney Green Grass and last but not least the fabulous food emporium, GRAY’S PAPAYA which is owned by my father. Yes, I am also known as The Papaya Princess and this was my first job working behind the counter at age 15.”
As a mother and a teacher, do you find the lessons you teach, from time to time coincide?
“Being a mother has deepened my capacity for love, empathy, creativity and joy. This directly impacts my teaching style and my relationship with my students. Since having my daughter I have begun a teen class and some of my students have grown up in my classes and form a strong community. It is a joy and an honor to watch them develop and discover themselves and to offer them an art that helps them find their own voice and a means to express it with creativity and grace. I taught a class for my daughter and 12 other girls for two years. They wrote their own material and performed it at the end of each year. It was a joy.
I always encourage my daughter and students to take chances, try new things, and welcome challenges with a sense of wonder and excitement. I like to remind them that the joy is in the process and that when we are struggling we are often learning. That to grow you have to try new things you have not yet mastered. I try to create an atmosphere in my home and classes of safety and support where it is exciting to experiment, explore and discover. These are lessons I re-learn myself every day. I am truly blessed to be a mother and a teacher and I learn as much from my daughter and students as they do from me. I believe it is important to always continue to be a student exploring in and out of the classroom. There is always so much more to learn and discover. Life is wonderous.”
What do you look forward to? Or tell me what you’re looking forward to now?
“I look forward to finishing the screen play I am working on with my husband and possibly producing and/ or directing it. I am also excited about teaching some workshops in LA and abroad. I love to travel and want to do more of that both in my personal and work life. I want to read great books, swim in the ocean, write, dance, explore new cities and make and share meals with the people I love. I look forward to seeing my daughter enter womanhood but this also makes me sad as her childhood has been so magical and I wish it lasted twice as long. I look forward to challenging myself, growing and discovering wonders I have not yet thought of. But mostly, I look forward to loving the people I am blessed to have in my life.”
You’re a story teller, I could listen to you for hours! I’d so love to hear an embarrassing story, would you please share one!?
“I Can’t think of one but I’ve probably given you much more than you want so please feel free to take what you like and don’t feel obligated to use it all.”