Eddie Gray coached the Garner Magnet High School boys basketball team to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship this spring and has roamed the Garner basketball and football sidelines as a coach for more than 38 years.
Recently, though, Gray has moved to the center stage as an actor in several community theater projects.
He will be back on stage on during the Aversboro Road Baptist Church’s summer drama team tour that begins Tuesday, July 21 with a 7 p.m., performance at the church. The team later will leave for another five shows in the mountains of North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Gray is playing famed evangelist D.L. Moody in the church’s production of Fanny Crosby’s Eternal Vision. Fanny Crosby, known as the Blind Poetess, wrote more than 8,000 hymns including “Blessed Assurance,” “Redeemed,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” and many more Christian standards.
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“To me, teaching and coaching is a form of acting,” Gray said. “You want to keep the audience’s attention while you convey information. My classroom is my stage and I have a captive audience that I want to learn.
“The same is true in coaching. You are trying to teach the players things that are important. It is not so much the basic skills of playing a game, but more importantly the life skills that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Acting is a long-time interest for Gray, who has been able to return to acting on stage more in recent years.
In high school, Gray played Evil-Eye Fleagle and Mayor Dog Meat in Garner High’s 1969 production of “Lil Abner.” He was Jeff Douglas, the sidekick of the main love interest, in the 1970 production of “Brigadoon,” which was the first show in the auditorium at Garner Senior High.
“JoAnn Watkins got me started in drama and it changed my life,” Gray said. “She helped me become a better person and she is probably the reason I got into teaching, hoping that I could help some other child as much as she helped me.
“When we won the state championship this year, I so wished that she could have been there to see it. I think she would have been pleased and been proud.”
Gray has been on several of the church drama tours and has performed as far away as Pennsylvania and Vermont. He also has been an actor in various church dramas, usually playing emotional characters such as Judas Iscariot in a production about the last supper of Jesus with his disciples and a Roman guard who beat Jesus prior to the crucifixion.
This spring, Gray played a railroad conductor in War At Your Door, a play about events that happened in Garner during the Civil War.
“I saw the play on public access television,” said Randall Johnson. “There were a lot of good actors, but Eddie stole the show.”
Moody offers special challenges, Gray said. Moody was one of the best known speakers and evangelists in the world in the late 19th century. He literally spoke to millions of people during his career.
He was so popular that vendors set up carts outside the venues where he spoke to sell pictures, books and curios, such as salt and pepper shakers.
“Moody was a great teacher and knew how to keep his audience’s attention and how to tell them things in such a way that they could retain them,” said Tim Stevens, who wrote and directs Fanny Crosby’s Eternal Vision. “Eddie is a great choice for the role.
“With Eddie, you know that he isn’t going to recite the script word for word. But he is going to take the script and bring it to life. I imagine that when people leave the show, they will believe that they have met Moody and Fanny Crosby.”