Wray of light

Theater instructor Carolyn Wray inspires actors and theater students

Photo By David Robert

Carolyn Wray’s office, located at the Truckee Meadows Community College’s Reno Town Mall campus, is the kind of place that makes visitors want to linger for a while.

The walls are covered with colorful posters, masks, costumes and props. On shelves above her desk hang small, dollhouse-like models of set designs, testimony to the years that she’s worked out of the space.

In the 15 years that Wray has taught theater at TMCC, she’s become a fixture in the local theater scene. Her name is an oft-cited inspiration among local actors. Some of her former students include Gothic North Theater’s executive director Julie Robertson and actress Hayley McCaw, who is performing in Brüka’s Theatre’s latest play, The Homecoming.

As Wray described what she does, it was clear that the nest-like comfort of her office is no accident.

“I think TMCC is here to nurture actors, to act as a feeder school and push people out there and on to stage in productions around the community,” she said. “We create a comfortable environment, where people can work and learn.”

This year, Wray’s department is poised to inspire and instruct more theater professionals than ever before. Last year, TMCC created a new associates degree program in theater arts. The college hired another full-time instructor, Paul Aberasturi, and added a new array of classes.

“This program is really taking off, and I think it will be popular,” she said. “It’s the only two-year degree of its kind in the state. It will allow people to get credit for studying an avocation they love.”

Along with teaching a full load, Wray produces a full-blown stage production each semester. She’s hard at work on a production of the play Working, a musical adaptation of oral historian Studs Terkel’s classic book on jobs and what they mean to the people who do them.

Wray admitted that theater isn’t the easiest vocation in the world. Only a select few will have a successful career, and for those who want to support themselves on stage, moving to a larger market is almost mandatory. It doesn’t help that aspiring actors and directors are too often discouraged by family and friends.

“It’s very tough,” she said. “Statistically, it’s very difficult to succeed. You need to have determination, drive, the ability to look at rejection as a business thing.”

Nevertheless, Wray said, if it’s something you feel the need to do, you have to go for it.

Wray was a shy 13-year-old when she first discovered the allure of the stage. She said theater was her salvation during her adolescence. She’s noticed that many of her students were shy people as well.

“I think theater really does attract a lot of shy, super-sensitive people, and often they’re the best at what they do,” she said. “They observe a lot. They feel that they can be accepted portraying someone else—the audience isn’t judging you, they’re judging your character.”

TMCC’s productions often include casts of up to 50 people. Wray said that since TMCC’s student population is so diverse, she has the opportunity to cast shows age-appropriately. Actors have also been recruited from TMCC high school and local elementary schools.

The performance space in Redfield Auditorium at TMCC’s main campus will be converted into a classroom after this semester, and the school will have to find a new stage. Wray said she’s not worried. She hopes to move nearer to the South Virginia Street campus, a site that’s accessible to more of the community.

“This is a very good time for theater," she said. "There’s a lot of interest, a lot of energy, a lot going on. It’s just exciting to watch."