Drama King

Oakland University alumnus Joe Bailey explores the depths of 'campiness' at The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale

Backstage at The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale, Michigan, Joe Bailey sits on a red couch in his office. Many posters from his shows line the walls. Wearing a black jacket, jeans and a flannel shirt.

Backstage at The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale, Michigan, Oakland University alumnus Joe Bailey's office is made comfortable with campy posters. Photo by Adam Sparkes.

Director's Cut

icon of a calendarJune 6, 2017

icon of a pencilBy Adam DePollo

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In her essay "Notes on 'Camp,'" the late writer, filmmaker and activist Susan Sontag defines "camp" as, among other things, "art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is 'too much.' "

That description perfectly characterizes the stage productions put on by The Ringwald Theatre in downtown Ferndale, Michigan and its equally campy co-founder and creative director
 Joe Bailey.

Bailey graduated from Oakland University's then nascent Department of Music Theatre in 1993. He spent several 
years looking for the right fit in a stage performance program beforehand. And his time at OU was essential to his development as an artist, he explains, because of the faculty's influence on his creativity.

"I gravitated to professor Karen Sheridan immediately," says Bailey. "I really learned a lot of my directing style from her. And she's really one of these 'Dead Poet's Society'- type teachers, who just makes such an indelible mark on your very soul."

If his directing style is any indication of what he's learned from Sheridan, it's to take chances.

After spending some years working as an actor in Los Angeles, and then as a performer with various traveling theater productions, Bailey returned to metro Detroit and reintroduced himself as an actor.

Oakland University alumnus Joe Bailey sits in the auditorium of The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale, Michigan. Photo by Adam Sparkes.

"I moved back here and ran into an old friend of mine, and we decided to start a theater company," remembers Bailey. "We did a production of 'Vampire Lesbians of Sodom' at Zato's (now Zeke's Rock 'n' Roll BBQ). We did that for four weeks in the summer of 2006."

As the title suggests, "Vampire Lesbians" sprints over the line of "too much" and never looks back. "And then shortly after we closed, we got a MySpace message from a man who was interested in starting a theater somewhere in Ferndale," says Bailey. By November of 2006, they had found a space to make their vision of The Ringwald a reality.

More than 10 years later, the small company has garnered a large following as a fixture in metro Detroit's experimental theater scene. Bailey and his colleagues put together an average of 10 stage productions per year—some of them "serious" plays, like "August: Osage County," but most of them of the "Vampire Lesbians" variety.

This summer, Bailey will be preparing for the next theatre season in his well-acquainted role of director, pushing the boundaries of "too much" that have made him and The Ringwald Theatre a star.

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