Ferndale's Ringwald Theatre returns to the stage

Last November, The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale announced it would be leaving its well-established home on Woodward Avenue. 

Opened in 2007, the once lively space boasted an average of 10 shows a year but had stood empty since March, when COVID-19 hit. Having no clear timeline for safe in-person events, the nonprofit decided not to renew its lease.

But that intermission is over, and showgoers will soon be finding their seats. In June, the theater announced a new partnership with Ferndale’s long-standing LBGTQ+ community center, Affirmations. It recently held auditions for its upcoming season, and is working to transform its space at the center on W. Nine Mile Road into a true black box theater.

We spoke with artistic director Joe Bailey, who co-founded the theater along with husband and media director Brandy Joe Plambeck. We asked Joe about the new partnership with Affirmations, what it feels like to have your community hold on to you, and the exciting comeback season he’s got planned.  

Metromode: After closing the theater last year, you told our publication you were “looking enthusiastically toward the future.” What gave you that hope and confidence amid everything bleak going on?

Joe Bailey: Because I did not want to give in to despair, really. And I just knew we were going to come out on the other side, though there was nothing concrete about it. 

I filmed a video that we released to tell people about not renewing the lease, and the feedback I got from it was just pretty overwhelming, in terms of people saying how buoyed they were by my tone and my message. I just was surprised because I never took us leaving our space as a negative thing.

Metromode: You closed your doors after filming your Christmas show on the old stage right? How was streaming of your show received online? Any productions since?

Joe Bailey: We did two shows like that, we also did Murder, She Podcast in the spring. They both did well, and the Christmas one did super.

Metromode: In June, you announced a partnership with Ferndale’s long-standing LGBTQ+ community center, Affirmations. How did that partnership come about?

Joe Bailey: Jay Kaplan, a lovely man at the ACLU, connected us with David Garcia, the executive director at Affirmations. David had talked to Jay about wanting to use their community room as a theater. Initially, we were a resource for them in terms of what steps they would take to do that. 

Metromode: And now you have a home in their downtown building. How did that happen?

Joe Bailey: We talked to David and looked at the space and sort of offered some advice. And then, after a few more conversations, I just decided I would ask David how open they would be to us making that our permanent home. 

I was very nervous, just because I didn't really know what his full intention was for the space. But before I even finished the question, he said, absolutely. So from there, we've just been working towards that goal.

Metromode: What excites you about the space at Affirmations?

Joe Bailey: Lots of things. Part of why I wasn’t so sad about leaving our former home is because, while it contained many, many memories, there were a lot of challenges with that physical space. Moving into Affirmations solves those things and gives us an upgrade, mainly for our audiences. 

We have a much bigger lobby. Also, at the old space, the bathrooms only housed one person at a time and weren’t accessible when the show began because you had to cross the stage to get to them. That’s eliminated here. Just one of the restrooms at Affirmations has seven stalls in it, which is like a mansion. There's also ample parking and the new dot parking structure is just a block away. 

It’s probably about half a mile from our old home, but the vibe is completely different. There's much more foot traffic. And I'm just excited to tap into Affirmations’ clientele and bring ours to them. The partnership is ripe for great things for both of us.

Metromode: What type of shared programming do you foresee?

Joe Bailey: We've already talked about a youth theater program. I don't know if it'll be a summer camp or a year-long thing, but that's number one on our list. We're going to have an education wing on our board that will take that over. A senior adult theater program is another possibility. 
At the old location, we had to produce all the time in order to pay those bills. Our new agreement allows us to produce fewer shows, which opens up time to pursue other things. We’re hoping to expand our family and reach people in the community in ways we haven’t before.

Metromode: You had planned to keep The Ringwald Theater in Oakland County. What does it mean to you that you get to stay in the heart of Ferndale?

Joe Bailey: Part of what this pandemic and our initial announcement about closing has illustrated to us, is how much we mean to the community. It’s so easy to lose sight of that when you're at the theater five, six nights a week wrapped up in just producing theater. 

In our initial talks, David Garcia said he was very intent on us staying, and that nobody wanted to see us leave Ferndale. That was nice. You just don't tend to notice those things sometimes. During our Comeback Campaign, we’re feeling the love from our community and our Ringwald family. I'm happy we're able to continue, just in a new way.

Metromode: What’s the Comeback Campaign for and how is it going?

Joe Bailey: It's helping us raise money to outfit the space. Our goal is $50,000. We really walked into an empty room that wasn’t designed to be a theater, and so we had to adapt it by hanging theatrical curtains, painting walls, upgrading the lighting system, installing risers, etc. This will be a true black box, which I'm also very excited about.

Metromode: Tell me about your upcoming season.

Joe Bailey:  We're going to open the whole shebang in October with Puffs, which is a parody of a certain boy wizard who’s gone to a certain wizardry school. But this is not his story. This is the story of another house on that wizarding school campus. Puffs takes all seven years of the stories we know, and just tells them from a different angle. It’s a very ensemble piece, very funny, very inventive, and I’m excited to do it. 

Right after that, we're gonna be doing our Golden Girls Christmas Vol. 2, followed by Small Mouth Sounds in February, Bootycandy in May and then Ruthless! The Musical which is very campy. It’s sort of The Bad Seed meets Gypsy meets All About Eve, and it’s great fun. 

Metromode: How will you manage COVID-19 safety procedures in your theater?

Joe Bailey: Right now we're planning to open at 100% and ask unvaccinated people to wear a mask during performances. The first three of our shows wont have intermissions, so we'll be able to get people in and out. We’re requiring all of our casts to be fully vaccinated two weeks before rehearsals begin. 

We’ll always adhere to the state mandates and or the CDC guidelines. We still have a long way to go until October, but that’s where we are today. Hopefully we’ll continue to stay steady and keep improving.

Visit The Ringwald Theatre to learn more about upcoming shows and the theater’s Comeback Campaign.
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