October 18. 2004
UCSC to host only West Coast tribute
to late actor, writer Spalding Gray
By Scott Rappaport
The late actor, writer, and comedic monologuist Spalding
Gray was scheduled to appear at UCSC last March as part of the
universitys 2003-04 Arts & Lectures performing arts
season. But the show was canceled after Gray was reported missing
Spalding Gray Photo
courtesy Kathie Russo
Grays body was subsequently found in New York Citys
East River on March 7. He had apparently committed suicide by
jumping from the Staten Island Ferry as a result of a consuming
depression brought on by a disabling car accident he experienced
two years earlier while celebrating his 60th birthday in Ireland.
The head-on collision had fractured Grays skull and
hip, resulting in a metal plate implanted in his head, and a
torn sciatic nerve that impaired his ability to walk.
On Saturday, October 23, UCSC Arts & Lectures, the Rio
Theater, and the Santa Cruz Film Festival will present a tribute
to the man who wrote and starred in 20 original monologues (three
of which were made into feature films), acted in 38 movies (including
Beaches, The Killing Fields, Kate & Leopold), and
appeared in several Broadway productions (the Tony Award-winning
revival of Our Town and the 2000 revival of Gore Vidals
The Best Man).
The evening will include a series of film clips put together
by the Santa Cruz Film Festival, appearances by a number of
his friends and theater colleagues from the San Francisco Bay
Area, staged excerpts from Grays monologues, as well as
personal stories, photos, and audio clips provided by his wife,
He was an American original, Russo noted in a telephone
interview from her home in Sag Harbor, New York. He was
able to take mundane, daily observations and turn them into
something extraordinary. There are so many one-person shows
now, and performers who used Spalding as their model of how
to do that kind of work.
One of Russos many contributions to the event is a compilation
CD that was compiled by Grays friend for 30 years, New
York City filmmaker Ken Kobland. Consisting of excerpts from
different media interviews, as well as Gray speaking candidly
about various subjects, the CD was previously played at an East
Coast tribute held last May and attended by 500 people in Sag
Harbor. A public memorial was also held in Grays honor
last April at Lincoln Center, where the participants included
singer Judy Collins, performance artist Laurie Anderson, actress
Lee Grant, solo performer Eric Bogosian, actor Eric Stoltz,
and composer Philip Glass.
Gray became well acquainted with the Santa Cruz area in the
summer of 1978 when he participated in a performance group workshop
on the UCSC campus. That experience was immortalized in a monologue
titled Nobody Wanted to Sit Behind A Desk
that the Christian Science Monitor described as How
I Spent My Summer Vacation--elevated to the realm of art.
During the next two decades, Gray would return to Santa Cruz
often to perform his new monologues and hang out with friends.
When we moved to Sag Harbor, he would always say, Oh,
its so beautiful here, but we could be in Santa Cruz,
Russo said. He really loved it there. And if I came to
Santa Cruz, I would spread some of his ashes there, and someday
On the day Gray disappeared, there was a phone message from
UCSC theater arts professor Jim Bierman on his answering machine.
Bierman had called to say hello and make plans to spend some
time with Gray after his upcoming performance at the campus.
I think the work Spalding did was outrageously pioneering,
Bierman observed. Its amazing to me because Im
frequently referring my students to the work he did in his earlier
days. The professor went on to recall how he and Gray
would often relax in the early 1990s by constructing trails
along Laguna Canyon and the Coast Dairies property off the Pacific
coast of central California.
We used to cut trails that we used for hikingmany
are still in use and one is now open to the public, said
Bierman. Spalding loved to wield a machete and we gave
him plenty of room. He referred to it as a therapeutic process
and he called it Dr. Machete. It eventually became
part of a monologue he was developing where he talked about
Spaldings visits to Santa Cruz were always a great
wonder because he simply had the talent for attracting the adventures
he described in his work, Bierman added. Eventually
though, I became a little more careful what I told him, knowing
it might show up later as dramatic material.
The October 23 Tribute to Spalding Gray will begin at 8 p.m.
and take place at the Rio Theater, located at 1205 Soquel Avenue
in Santa Cruz. Michelle Witt, director of UCSC Arts & Lectures,
noted that a donation of $10 is suggested, and that all proceeds
from the event will go to an educational fund for Grays
Arts & Lectures had a special relationship with Spalding
Gray over the years; he has performed here many times,
said Witt. This will be a beautiful way to acknowledge
him and what an important role he played in American theater.
For more information, contact the UCSC Ticket Office at (831)
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