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Starting from scratch: Friends start professional theater group

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

DULUTH -- "Moon Over Buffalo." "The Story of My Life." "One Good Marriage." "Jekyll and Hyde."

These are some of the shows a trio of friends had always wanted to be part of, productions they hoped to one day see on local stages.

Frustration from waiting for theater companies to produce such shows and offer more diversity throughout their seasons prompted Jeffrey Scott Bailey, Eric Michael Bragg and Stephanie Darlene Wallace to ask, "Why wait?"

With no good reason to hesitate, the trio moved forward in forming the Red Phoenix Theatre Company, a professional theater organization now in the process of securing its nonprofit status and producing its first show, "Moon Over Buffalo," which opens tonight and is produced in partnership with metro Atlanta community theater group Old Alabama Road Company.

Bragg is directing the comedy, with Wallace, a Lawrenceville resident, serving as assistant director and stage manager. Bailey is working on the company's second show, "Once On This Island: The Concert," which will open next month.

"There are just some shows, I don't think people are necessarily afraid to touch them, but they're not the most well-known shows," Wallace said of Red Phoenix's selections for the debut season. "I think we're much more interested in producing different, intelligent and exciting theater."

With a clear vision of the kind of shows they want to produce, ensuring the theater company exists on paper and filing necessary paperwork for securing nonprofit status has been the most challenging task.

"Getting all that stuff out of the way has been the biggest hurdle just because we're artists and we like the creative aspect of it," Bragg said. "Now that all that stuff is behind us, we're finally getting into the creative aspects of our seasons."

For Wallace, the challenge of creating a theater company from scratch has been working overall with just three people.

"It's probably been doing everything at once," she said. "There's only three of us and that's six hands tops. There's literally not a day that any of the three of us wake and we're not eating, sleeping and breathing the theater company."

Red Phoenix has made its home at Red Clay Theatre in Duluth, where plans are in the works to create educational space in the theater basement where the theater company will fulfill the educational component of its mission. Bailey, who is a vocal coach and choreographer, and Bragg, who currently teaches drama at a local middle school, plan to teach classes in acting for teenagers through adults.

As a professional theater company, the performers and crew for Red Phoenix shows are paid.

"We actually will draw more talent from all over this metro Atlanta area (and) attract some of the bigger fish to the playhouse," Bragg said. "Jeff's got a lot of ties in D.C. and New York, as well as myself, so we're hopefully going to bring people in and really make the city of Duluth a (theater) destination."

"As far as the company goes and the theater goes and the three of us go," Wallace added, "I'd like to see us go as far as we can. The sky's the limit. I am excited to see what we can do with it."