For the last 53 years, Gray and Brenda Gilbert have stood side by side in holy matrimony and dramatic theater productions. Now, they’ve brought their love for the playhouse to Scotia Village.
“I grew up in a small town, and there just wasn’t much to do,” said Gray. “I got into it initially for the social life.”
For Brenda, she knew at a young age that acting was in her blood.
“I remember, as a little girl, my family would go to the movies, and I was totally swept into whatever we were watching,” said Brenda. “The whole way home, I would act out all of my favorite parts.”
That passion stuck with her through college as she studied voice at Greensboro College and then at East Carolina University. Though Gray enjoyed theater, he went to school for engineering at Mississippi State University. The two would meet at work and have four children, two boys and two girls, along with nine grandchildren. But they never lost their love of the arts.
When they retired at Scotia Village a year and a half ago, the couple joined other residents to create the Scotia Village Repertory Theater putting on a short skit from Over the River and Through the Woods, a comedy that brings together a mix-match of altered fairy tale characters.
“We also did a melodrama called Double Take at Beatrice’s Boarding House,” said Brenda. The story follows a longwinded young boarding house owner, Beatrice, as she tries to keep her business from closing its doors or, worse yet, Luther Swett, the cad, taking ownership of it.
“We always have a good time,” said Brenda. “We usually don’t cast ourselves, but sometimes we’ll play something.” Gray usually directs.
“Last year, we put on The Perils of Priscilla, and one of the characters was called the ‘ugliest woman in the world,’” she continued with a laugh. “We thought, ‘Oh, no, how will we ever cast this part? Who’s going to want that title?’ But, by the end of the reading, we realized that the woman is a man. We had quite a few men who wanted to play the part! And we had one of our residents playing a 10 year old. We all have a bunch of fun with it.”
The Perils of Priscilla filled up the theater twice. Audience members in the front row were given peanut shells to throw at the villain.
“We want audience participation, especially with that one,” said Gray. “So, we had audience members boo when the villain came out and throw things. It’s all in the name of fun.”
Outside of the theater, Brenda and Gray Gilbert are very involved in in the greater community. Brenda worked to establish and reorganize the Encore Theater a few years ago. She has also organized the first Storytelling Festival of Carolina, volunteered with the Arts Council of Scotland County, served as the first woman, as she puts it, “in a long time,” as a chair in the local Chamber of Commerce, helped farmers with the Scotland County Cooperative Extension, and even served as the Director of School Community Relations for over 30 years.
Gray continues to impress with his cycling feats. “I usually cycle about 20-40 miles a day,” said Gray. He helps raise money by cycling for various non-profits including the Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and others.
“I did the National DC Bike Ride back in May,” he continued. “I’ve always ridden a bike, but I didn’t get back into it until 2007 when my son brought his bike up from Charlotte and wanted to ride with me. I’ve kept it up ever since.”
The active couple has been able to keep up with their many activities, hobbies, and passions while calling Scotia Village home.
“We wanted the Scotia Village lifestyle and amenities,” said Brenda. “We had a large house with lots of pines, but it was hard work to keep it looking nice, and Gray did it all himself. I had volunteered at Scotia Village and served on the Board of Trustees before we moved here. I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Gray agreed. “After doing everything ourselves, it’s nice to have them do it all for us. We have a big house now, so we didn’t have to do much downsizing. And it’s great to know that if anything breaks, we just have to pick up the phone, and they come out to fix it usually within 20 minutes.”
But the best part of calling a playhouse like Scotia Village home:
“It’s the friends you make here. They feel just like family,” said Brenda. “We wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”