Krissy Gray wasn’t exactly born in a trunk.
But as a kid she tagged along with her parents to rehearsals and to the back offices of one of central Contra Costa County ’s venerable theater organizations.
While Gray grew up with her mom and dad, Betty and Mike Harwood, in Alamo near the Walnut Creek border, it’s safe to say that “the Firehouse” was Gray’s second home.
The Firehouse on Pleasant Hill ’s Oak Park Boulevard is the longtime headquarters and rehearsal space of Diablo Theatre Company – formerly known as Diablo Light Opera Company.
Betty Harwood performed in DTC’s musical theater shows and later did marketing and publicity for the company. Not wanting to be miss out on a family bonding opportunity, Mike Harwood volunteered to work backstage.
Now Gray will be running the 53-year-old company. She was recently named the new managing director.
“It’s a full circle moment,” said Gray. “I’m very excited and honored to be managing director. Besides being a great professional opportunity, this is personally very meaningful. This company is close to my heart.”
Completing that circle will be Gray’s 10-year-old daughter, Kailyn, a St. Isidore School 5th grader. Kailyn likes to be on stage and has appeared as a Munckin in the company’s fall production of The Wizard of Oz.
Gray, a graduate of Carondelet High School in Concord, studied dance, graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and headed in-theater marketing for an independent film distribution company before returning to the Bay Area with her husband and daughter. She handled marketing and business for DTC prior to becoming managing director.
She will share duties of running DTC with new artistic director Ian Leonard. For the 2012-13 season, the company will stage two shows at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts: My Way, a musical revue that pays tribute to the songbook of Frank Sinatra, and the exuberant Singin' in the Rain.
Putting on a show can be lots of fun and creatively rewarding, of course. But Gray acknowledges the challenges of running an arts organization in an economic climate when many people are cutting back on “extras” like philanthropic donations or going to the theater.
DTC has “fantastic donors and amazing volunteers” who help keep things humming, Gray said. But even with their help and the possibility the Bay Area is working its way out of a recession, Gray said he and her DTC colleagues must make smart choices about the shows they pick.
They want shows that appeal to the company’s long-time fans while also attracting new audiences, including families. This past season, the company staged The Wizard of Oz with kids in mind. The company also took a big chance with a musical version of Legally Blonde, hiring up-and-coming Broadway actress Bailey Hanks to play the role that Reese Witherspoon made famous in the 2001 film. Legally Blonde was a critical and commercial hit for DTC.
“It was a huge show, and by bringing in Bailey Hanks we were hoping to get a lot of publicity,” Gray said. “The great press we got exceeded our expectations, and Bailey was amazing to work with.”
Finding the right show to put on, along with the right cast, director, sets and costumes, will keep Gray busy at DTC. The company also runs a summer youth theater camp and the longstanding Stars 2000 pre-professional teen training program.
“That’s an important part of our mission to introduce theater to kids and to cultivate the next generation of performers and arts lovers," she said.