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ART BEAT: Red Phoenix Theatre rises in Duluth's historic downtown

Holley Calmes

Holley Calmes

On a cold winter's night in 2009, three theatrical friends sat discussing all the plays they wanted to produce, act in or direct: theater with bite, with diversity.

As the evening drew on, they decided, why wait for someone else to produce these works? We'll do it ourselves!

Thus the nonprofit Red Phoenix Theatre was born. Two seasons of theater and film experiences have been planned, to be held in the Red Clay Theatre on Main Street in historic downtown Duluth beginning this month.

The three friends certainly have a wealth of experience to draw upon in this new effort. Jeffrey Scott Bailey, the irrepressible and gifted actor, singer, dancer, teacher, producer, choreographer and writer, brings international experience. He has performed in and directed theater from the Kennedy Center to Broadway National and International tours. He moved to Atlanta in 2006.

Eric Michael Bragg, co-artistic director along with Bailey, has been director of drama at River Trail Middle School, and Stephanie Wallace, production director, has worked with numerous theater companies.

The name Red Phoenix came about as the three friends contemplated the year that 2009 had been. All three had experienced broken relationships and felt they were each "rising from the ashes."

Under the umbrella of Red Phoenix Theatre, several different initiatives are being created. The Red Phoenix Theatre Company will present intriguing plays including "Moon Over Buffalo" by Ken Ludwig in June, "True West" by Sam Shepherd in September and October, a funny satire on Santa with "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" in early December, followed by a holiday cabaret closer to Christmas.

In July the company will offer "Once On This Island," a Caribbean adaptation on the little mermaid fairy tale, which received eight Tony nominations for its Broadway run. This family-friendly production will include a black-tie gala and silent auction to benefit the Red Cross' Haitian Relief Effort on July 17 and a public concert July 18. Ticket prices are planned to be very pocket-friendly, ranging from $16 to $24.

"The Red Clay Theatre building is a fantastic facility, and the managing team has been very receptive to our vision for the company's 2010 and 2011 seasons," Bailey said.

Passersby who notice walls coming down or other construction going on around the theater should not be alarmed. It's only progress being made to ensure a safe and efficient facility.

The building also lends itself to family fun, and Red Phoenix Theatre is offering a lineup of favorite films. "Cinema Phoenix" begins at 8 p.m. May 21 with the movie "Jaws," followed June 4 with "Grease," "Top Gun" on July 23 and "Friday the 13th" on Aug. 13. A host of children's activities including puppet shows and live performances will also be offered Saturday mornings in June.

Although there is something for all ages at Red Phoenix, it is the excellence of the live theatrical experience that drives this trio of artists.

"I want my audiences to leave the theater thinking about what they just saw," Bailey said. "We will be offering thought-provoking plays that are also entertaining, contemporary theater that doesn't just tie everything up in a bow at the end. Theater that we think is important."

To find out more about Red Phoenix Theatre and its upcoming offerings, visit www.redphoenix.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.