Now steadily into the start of its second decade in existence, fans of Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre will know it for its seasons of uncharacteristic takes on classic performances and unique choice of new works. According to its official history, chosen productions blur “the lines between race, income, religion and sexuality.”
“I’m very big on telling stories and telling stories that people don’t necessarily know. So, no tea, no shade, but you won’t see ‘The Odd Couple’ here, you won’t see ‘Boeing-Boeing’ here, because they’ve both been done a gillion and one times,” said Artistic Director Joe Bailey. “They’re great shows, I love them, but people have had a chance to see them multiple times. So, that’s not interesting to me. I want people to be able to see stuff that they maybe haven’t seen or haven’t seen in a while.”
In addition to his role as artistic director, Bailey is a co-founder of the theater, having started it in 2007 alongside his husband Brandy Joe Plambeck, who serves as the theater’s media director. He said that each season tends to include productions that fit into four key slots.
“We’ve gotten in the habit over the last few years of having a classic slot where we do a show that’s considered a classic. It’s not necessarily an overdone show, but this last year was ‘Death of a Salesman’ and then we had done ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ before that and we’re doing ‘Of Mice and Men’ this coming season. We also usually try to do a big fat musical, whether it’s a brand-new one like when we did ‘Heathers: The Musical’ or ‘RENT’ — we were the first local, professional company to do that,” Plambeck said. “[And] we always try to do something campy and something gay.”
An Upcoming First
This season is breaking new ground for the theater with its production of “High School Musical” that’s running now through Sept. 16. Plambeck is directing the show and he said it’s the theater’s first stab at a show for young adults. Despite the fact that it’s coming with a twist, he said he wants to stay true to the widespread appeal of the original.
“I want it to be something where people who are gaga, head over heels for it — whether they were when it first came out — or if they’re young today and love it on the Disney Channel, they can come and enjoy it,” Plambeck said. “But there’s this aspect of the angle we’re coming at it [from] that if you’re an adult you could come and enjoy it as well.”
That angle involves the casting of Joe Bailey in the part of the show’s main, often bubble gum pink-clad antagonist Sharpay Evans.
“So, our ‘High School Musical’ is going to be very interesting just because it’s not like we’re doing a parody, because first of all it’s illegal to do that, like Disney will hunt you down. But we just wanted to cast older people in it and see what that would bring to the part. And casting a guy as Sharpay, not changing the gender, you know Sharpay is still this high school girl, but having an older gentleman who is very funny in it, in drag, play the part,” Plambeck said with a laugh.
When asked what shows the couple was most excited about putting on, Bailey said he can’t wait for Clare Barron’s “Dance Nation” to debut, currently scheduled for Feb. 21 through March 16 of 2020.
“I’m excited for everything, but I’m super excited for a play called ‘Dance Nation,’ which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize this year, because that script is bananas. And Brandy Joe is directing it and I’m very eager to see how it’s going to turn out. I read it like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s about a group of 13-year-old girls and one 13-year-old boy who are in a competitive dance troupe, like a ‘Dance Moms’ sort of scenario, but the actors are played of all different ages playing 13,” Bailey said. “So, you could have a 70-year-old, 25, 30, 50 — whatever you want and whoever is right for the part. And at one point, the girls grow fangs, and it’s so great and I love it so much.”
Plambeck said he’s eager to take on the directing challenge because even the show’s physical script has its own flair.
“It’s very poetic. And the way it’s written on the page, the text gets giant at some points and it’s like, ‘How do you interpret this?’ … It also says that even though they are in a dance troupe, it’s fine if none of the actors have any dance training or experience. Or if they’re not good at dance it’s even better, it says. So, it kind of alleviates this worry of, ‘Oh, I must be a good dancer because I’m playing this dancer in a dance troupe.’ It’s like, ‘Hey, bring whatever age you are and whatever dance skill level you have and just bring it to the table and really give into this world,'” Plambeck said. “I think it’s incredibly exciting.”
See a full list of The Ringwald’s upcoming performances below. Find out more information about upcoming productions online at theringwald.com.
High School Musical
Aug. 23 – Sept. 16
Tiny Beautiful Things
Oct. 11 – Nov. 4
A Very Golden Girls Christmas
Nov. 22 – Dec. 16
Jan. 10 – Feb. 3
Feb. 21 – March 16
Of Mice and Men
April 3 – April 27
Grindr: The Opera
May 15 – June 15