Jenna Kray, BFA in Performance, 2016
The first time Jenna auditioned was when she was five, when her big brother went for The Wizard of Oz. “They said, ‘Hey, we need munchkins. Can she sing?’ I sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and fell in love with theatre.”
Jenna recalls, “My parents realized how serious I was about theatre when I got nominated for a Cappies Awards.” This regional recognition (DC/MD/VA) is for kids in theatre. Jenna actually got to sing “Some Things are Meant to Be” as Beth in Little Woman on Kennedy Center Stage. Nobody in my family was in the arts, and they didn’t anticipate that I’d make it my career.”
At VCU Jenna “went down avenues I didn’t expect.” She intended to be a musical theatre ingénue, but ended up directing and writing her own stuff. “It opened me up to things I didn’t know I was capable of. Dr T (Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, a current professor of graduate acting and directing) was the most meaningful professor. She empowered my perspective as a young female artist in a way that some of the male teachers didn’t and couldn’t understand.”
Our theatre department has worked with Actors Connection in NYC for senior showcases, so after her experience Jenna decided, “When I move to New York, I want to work here.” She did! In several capacities, which allowed her “to listen to pros and learn what it takes to step into this world.”
Since then, her professional opportunities have flourished, “I’m doing more TV and film work than I imagined.” This included two appearances on Saturday Night Live (one with Will Ferrell) and most recently in HBO’s Mare of Easttown as “the character who got Deacon Marks beat up in Episode 5.” As for her experience on the show, she recalls, “My teachers used to tell me that I couldn’t wait until the last minute to memorize my lines, but that skill has been one of my greatest strengths, because you often get changes at the last minute. Even in Mare we improvised a lot.”
She’s also working “on writing and educating myself so I can be a more mindful artist. This has to do with being involved with social justice work and learning more about intimacy coordination.” This led Jenna to her involvement with Ring of Keys (yes, the name is a reference to the song from Fun Home). It’s a service organization that supports musical theatre performers who identify as queer, trans or gender non-conforming.
Jenna’s excited about her next project, which is her first movie, an undisclosed dark drama for Netflix. “As much as the work is fun, you have to enjoy the rest of your life,” so she’s taken up sewing to customize her clothes—skills she credits learning at VCU.
Header image (clockwise from top left): Jenna and Punkie Johnson in an SNL skit; Jenna at Feinstein’s 54 Below where she performed in a cabaret as the culminating project of a master class with Ari Axelrod in 2018; one of Jenna’s headshots ; Jenna as Wednesday in The Addams Family at The Prizery.
Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the July 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.