Way before the record-breaking television drama Empire was even thought of, actress Grace Gealey could have been found in the Cayman Islands, where her family was ingraining something in her that she would carry throughout the rest of her life: a drive for education.
“Education was instilled in me at a young age by my grandparents, Harry and Theoline McCoy,” Gealey says. “My grandfather’s aunt, Flora Robinson, was the first female teacher in the Cayman Islands, and my grandmother, Theoline, became a well-renowned educator who made such an impact on the country, people called her ‘Teacher’ until the day she passed.”
To say Gealey had incredible role models is clearly an understatement, and growing up, her family made sure she would be bright. She remembers spending summers with her cousins at her grandparents’ house where they would want to watch cartoons all day, and says, “Gramma would allow us the luxury of a few cartoon shows, but shortly after, we were required to do something that stimulated our minds.”
These stimulating activities included anything from building a clubhouse (and then playing in it) to learning entrepreneurial basics, like selling fruit on the streets to passing cars. “Or Gramma’s favorite: doing mathematical problems or English essays on how to save the coral reefs around the island,” Gealey says. “We held education in a high regard.”
So it was no surprise when Gealey would then move to America years later to pursue higher education and obtain her MFA in acting from University of California, Irvine. Even when growing up, Gealey knew she wanted to create art, and she found herself gravitating towards the performing arts at a very young age. “Whether it was acting, dancing, singing, or playing the piano,” she says, “the desire to continuously express myself in an artistic fashion was overwhelming.”
At first, Gealey didn’t think she would become an actress. According to her, acting wasn’t a widely pursued profession in the Cayman Islands, so she initially went to college to become a drama professor. It wasn’t until her academic career that she was encouraged by guest director Tamara Harvey to seriously pursue acting full-time. That’s when it all began.
“There are two components to theater that are hard to replicate in other mediums,” says Gealey of her passion for theater in particular. “1) The presence of the unassuming, beautifully vulnerable audience, and 2) the gift of moving all the way through your consecutive crafting.”