Theater as therapy: How Kay Wise got her groove back

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

Early on, Kay Wise thought of herself as a roving gypsy on some kind of meaningful path.

Born in Ohio, she grew up in the 1960s in northern California when her parents, employed in the airline business, were transferred to San Francisco International Airport.

“So there I was, outside San Francisco in Redwood City,” the Black Mountain resident said during a recent interview, talking about her earliest years. “Very shy, stood by the wall and teachers would say ‘You still holding up that wall?’”

She found an outlet in theater, something she called “fantastic.” But it was her school work that needed her attention in high school.

In the ’70s, she worked at Stanford University as a secretary, moving back and forth from California and Ohio to help out her family. In the early ’80s, she accompanied her “Southern gentleman” husband to North Carolina. While there, she took undergraduate evening courses at UNC Chapel Hill, discovered Black Mountain and fell in love with the area. She managed to visit the Swannanoa Valley yearly when her brother moved to Durham.

She moved again, to Florida, then got divorced. She spent 1987-88 completing her college work at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, majoring in communications and minoring in theater. As an evening student who worked by day as a secretary in an Orlando advertising agency, she couldn’t indulge her desire to be onstage (actors rehearsed during the day). Instead, she joined the theater technical crew, which rehearsed fewer hours.

After college, she chose massage therapy as a vocation. It has served her well for the past 28 years.

“I discovered I had a gift,” she said. “I literally was able to touch people and relieve them of their stress. And I really knew what stress was after all that enervating public relations, advertising and office work.”

Immediately upon earning her massage therapy certificate, she was employed at a health center and beach club spa in Sea Island, Georgia. She longed to combine her satisfying occupation with theater.

She came closer to her goal in Corpus Christi, Texas where her current husband Glynn Denty had roots and a teaching position. There, while building a physical therapy practice, she from 1999—2014 became involved as an actor, director and stage manager at the nearby Rialto Theater and Rockport Little Theater.

“You see,” she said, “since junior high school, deep down in my soul I always wanted to be on stage. To develop a character, be somebody else, and help tell the story. And direct, using this creative process to get people together and away from TV and all the turmoil in this world. Buoyed by my business, I had the time. And we could still take the camper every summer to Black Mountain.”

At this point, she was only one step away from moving here. And this is how it happened:

“Three years ago, Glen said, ‘since you moved to Texas for me, we can move to any place in the world you want to go,’” she said. “And I knew it had to be Black Mountain because it was always like coming home. These mountains speak to me (in a way) that’s more holistic and natural. I love the variety of people here. I’m still a professional in my craft. Everyone in this valley is kind, and I’m fully accepted.”

She’s also thrilled to be part of the Black Mountain Center for the Arts’ Front Porch Theatre because the theater is local, intimate, and she’s truly needed. Last year, she played Sheree in “The Dixie Swim Club.” Presently, she’s directing another comedy, “The Queen of Bingo,” that revolves around two sisters who learn to accept one another. The play is slated to run May 12-14 and 19-20. In addition, she’s been asked to direct “Love Makes a Home” by local author Kiesa Kay at White Horse Black Mountain in June.

All told - and at long last - Wise-Denty has fulfilled her dream.

Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic profile of people who are drawn to the Swannanoa Valley.

See her at work

Kay Wise-Denty is directing “The Queen of Bingo,” playing May 12-14 and 19-20 at Black Mountain Center for the Arts.