VERONA — Grayson Reed is only 16, but has already been a part of 64 theater productions in the area.
Grayson’s theater life began in 2009, when he was 7 years old and was cast in a production of “Sleeping Beauty” at ShenanArts in Staunton.
“And I haven’t stopped since,” said Grayson, who will be a junior this fall at Grace Christian School.
Grayson tried following in his father’s footsteps and took up tennis when he was a kid. He also tried soccer and basketball. But he did not enjoy any of the sports.
“It wasn’t his interest, and that was obvious,” said Grayson’s father, Chad Reed.
For Grayson, none of the youth sports “stuck.”
So he tried youth theater productions at Loch Willow Presbyterian Church in Churchville, then portrayed King Stefan in “Sleeping Beauty.”
“I think it was kind of through that that we realized he had an affinity for being in front of crowds of people performing,” Reed said of himself and his wife, Patra. The Reeds live in Verona.
Right now Grayson is in production to portray “Michael Wormwood” in Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical,” which will be performed at The Wayne Theatre Aug. 8 to 11 and Aug. 15 to 18.
Grayson said he enjoys performing in a wide range of theater shows, but he “is a sucker for the classics” such as “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
“I’m always looking for new shows just because I want to find new things that I haven’t heard,” Grayson said.
ShenanArts audiences will remember him from the 2018 spring production of “Newsies,” which is among Grayson’s favorites, as well as “Billy Elliot, the Musical.”
Grayson said he would never have been cast in “Newsies” if not for his role in “Billy Elliot” at ShenanArts in 2018.
“Billy Elliot” was his first lead role, and the first role for which he had to learn to dance. In the production, Billy dances for the royal ballet. Personally, for Grayson, the role was also emotionally challenging.
He said he enjoys lead and supporting roles. He has also learned behind-the-scenes of acting, such as lighting, sound, set design and stage management.
“Having the spotlight [as the leading role] is really cool, and it’s really fun, it also lends itself to some challenge,” Grayson said.
He portrayed four or five leading roles in 2018, but as 2019 began he said he found himself wanting a break from leading roles and to be part of the ensemble.
“I enjoy just being there. I enjoy making [theater] happen,” Grayson said.
In 2014, when he was 9, Grayson was cast as the lead character’s son in the locally produced and filmed “Texas Rein,” now available on DVD at Walmart and Target.
“[The film] is like a prodigal son returns home [story], but the prodigal son is a daughter, so it was a well-done production. It was a Christian-based production. It’s a great film,” Chad Reed said.
Grayson said the film’s story is “beautiful.”
However, Grayson said his passion is definitely more so for theater and live performance than films or television.
“ShenanArts is like my home,” Grayson said of the nonprofit that consists of local high school and adult acting talent.
Grayson said his parents have made it clear that his school grades come first, then acting. As long as he keeps his grades up, he can act in as many productions as his schedule allows.
“It’s a balance,” Grayson said of juggling school and acting.
Reed said he sees his son’s time spent with acting as similar to an athlete training and practicing for sports games.
Before speaking with The News Virginian, Grayson spent three weeks in the Catskills of New York at the Stagedoor Manor summer camp. He was one of 300 actors from all over the world who worked on auditions and rehearsals, and attended theater classes in preparation for a production of “Titanic,” which tells the stories of the passengers on the maiden voyage of the ship that sank in April 1912.
“It’s definitely a lot of talent and it’s definitely people who care about [theater] the most,” Grayson said of what he saw at camp.
He said he wanted to attend the camp, which he had to apply and be accepted to, in order to meet and learn from other actors outside of the Valley about his craft.
“[Stagedoor Manor] isn’t the place where you want to find your theater dream. It’s where you want to cultivate it and really explore that with other people,” Grayson said of the three weeks of intense training.
Stagedoor gave Grayson an opportunity to experience a higher level of acting and face challenges on stage that he had thus far not experienced in his acting in the Valley while also having support from fellow actors.
In “Titanic,” Grayson had four roles: the telegraph operator, Harold Bride, who sent the SOS message that the Titanic was sinking, John Thayer, a first-class passenger, Edgar Bean, a second-class passenger, and a third-class passenger, all of whom die after the ship sinks.
Grayson had to make 23 costume changes during the production to portray all four roles, and two characters had mental breakdowns on stage.
“At the end of the day, it was all about the production,” Chad Reed said of the support and competition Grayson experienced in the summer camp.
“Matilda” will be Grayson’s 10th production at The Wayne. He said his first at the Waynesboro theater was in “The Secret Garden,” the theater’s first musical production since renovations.
After “Matilda,” Grayson will be seen on stage as Friedrich, the oldest von Trapp son, in Brian Clowdus’ production of “The Sound of Music” at Wintergreen Sept. 5 to 29. Grayson’s performances will be every other day as two casts of the von Trapp children take turns on stage.
Grayson hopes to make theater acting a career after high school, but will first attend college. He said he would also enjoy teaching acting to children.