CCA's flexibility allows elementary school student to perform in Fulton Theatre production
Chase Jennings Gray has performed in eight theater productions and recently starred in "A Christmas Story" at Fulton Theatre in Lancaster.
“He loves to perform. He’s always singing and dancing. That’s just who he is.”
This is how Mindy Gray of Mechanicsburg describes her son’s inherent passion. His stats are impressive. Chase Jennings Gray has been in eight official theater productions, including Fulton Theatre's recent production of “A Christmas Story” in Lancaster, where he performed eight or nine shows a week, totaling more than 55 performances. What’s more impressive? He’s only 8 years old.
Not only is Chase regularly the youngest actor onstage, but he also takes ballet, tap, voice and violin lessons. Did we mention he finished first and second grades in one year?
Mindy, a former teacher and current CCA learning coach, was looking for a cyber school option after desiring a slightly more structured environment than home schooling.
“CCA is the perfect fit for us. It gives us a nice blend of structure, along with the flexibility of being able to do these wonderful things that my kids like to do,” Mindy said.
This is their second year at CCA. At first, Mindy tried home schooling Chase while he was in kindergarten. The home schooling period resulted in Chase finding his passion.
The local home-school association put out a notification that it was looking for home-schooled kids to cast its daytime show. After Chase sent in his audition video, he was cast as the only boy in the act at just 5 years old.
“That show, it was like a hook – something that he really loved from that point on – and it has been one show after the next ever since,” Mindy said.
“After that show, he saw other dancers and thought, ‘Oh, I really want to try dance.’ So we enrolled him in ballet and tap, along with voice lessons and violin lessons,' ” Mindy said. “And we could never do these things if we weren’t in a flexible school environment like CCA’s.”
Chase has always excelled at reading, which is why his mother thinks memorizing full-show scripts comes so easily for him at such a young age.
Because of Mindy’s teaching background, she believes education is key in their household.
“We want Chase to have a stable education background so that if in a few years he decides he doesn’t want to pursue theater or acting, he’ll be able to pick right back up where all of the other kids are,” Mindy said. “After all, he is only 8 years old.”
When it came to enrolling both of her sons at CCA, Mindy said, it came down to one simple thing.
“We looked at other cyber school options, but many of them were just very confusing. I talked to some other home-school moms who recommended CCA, and the simplicity of CCA is what sold us. If it’s too hard to understand and to navigate, none of us will want to do it. It’s nice to have something that is spelled out in front of us that we can just grab and run with,” Mindy said.
The flexibility of CCA allows Chase and his brother, Ryan, an eighth-grader at CCA, to follow their interests and their parents to help them get where they need to go – although their dreams are very different. Ryan is a black belt in karate and a member of the National Junior Honor Society. He often does his homework on the road while accompanying Chase in his endeavors. Their parents love that CCA allows them to pick up and go in order to support their sons' activities, including the performing opportunities awaiting Chase in his future.
“Our biggest thing with Chase is that we know that he is most likely not headed down a traditional path. That’s pretty obvious. And we need to give him the opportunity to go to places like New York City for special training, or even have the opportunity to go on a national tour if he were to be cast in something like that,” Mindy said.
“There’s no way we could do that even if I were home schooling him. I don’t think I could collect all of the materials he needs and go on the road, whereas at CCA, as long as we have his computer we are all set."
When asked why he enjoys singing, dancing and acting onstage, Chase said, “I don’t know for sure, I just get this weird feeling going through my body. It’s really fun, and I just really enjoy it.
While some 8-year-olds might get nervous performing in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people, Chase doesn’t. His secret trick to memorizing his lines is reading them over and over until he can’t forget them. He gets a little help from his mom, of course, who says she ends up knowing all of the words, all of the songs and almost all of the dance moves in whatever show he is in.
Chase said his favorite subject is science, especially chemistry, and his favorite teacher is Mrs. Brown.
When it comes to his education, both of Chase’s parents see the importance of encouraging and supporting him to be the best he can be. But when it comes to acting and performing, they take a more hands-off approach.
“We don’t push him. We give him the tools he needs to be successful, but we don’t push him. We let him drive the show,” Mindy said. “Because if he doesn’t love it, he won’t enjoy it or become successful at it.”
After “A Christmas Story” is finished at the Fulton, Chase has decided he wants to take time away from acting to focus on dancing, especially tap dancing, which he loves.
Because he participated in this show, Chase had to miss his ballet recital with his dancing friends. Come June, when their next recital performance arrives, Chase won’t miss it.
In addition to performing at the Fulton Theatre, Chase has been in shows at the Gamut Classic Theatre, The Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, The Playhouse at Allenberry, the Ephrata Performing Arts Center and the Lebanon Community Theatre.
When asked which of the shows he has been in was his favorite, Chase was stumped.
“That is a really hard decision. … Hmm … probably Peter Pan."