To call actor Charla Marie Bailey committed heart and soul to her profession would be something of an understatement. “I can’t breathe without acting,” she readily attests. “I have to do it, bring life to stories that move people emotionally. Whether it’s to make them laugh or go home and kiss their partners or join an action group. I want to move them.”
That passion has been put to considerably good use in Twin Cities theatre. Bailey has trod the boards at a wide range of stages from not-so-well-known houses to such prestige venues such as Penumbra Theatre (The Amen Corner, Black Nativity, Tell Martha Not To Moan and The Deacon’s Awakening), Pangea World Theater (From The Ashes), Theatre in the Round (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Steppingstone Theater (The Story of Ruby Bridges).
During the course of which she has worked with leading directors Lou Bellamy, Dipankar Mukherjee, and now Wendy Knox, artistic director at Frank Theatre, in the regional premiere of celebrated British playwright Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
Bailey naturally is enthused to work with this professional’s professional whose vast credits list Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus and The America Play, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and, at Guthrie Theater, Lysistrata. “[I’ve wanted] to act with Wendy for years and it just wasn’t my time. Now I finally get the chance and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity. There’s a time for everything and now’s the time.
“She’s top notch,” continued Bailey. “You hear nothing but good stories about her and now I’m experiencing it. For good measure, Bailey is also a company member at Theatre Unbound and an adult team leader with Teen Ivey. She has also portrayed film roles in Connection (Best Performance — Minnesota 48 Film Festival), Miles Between Us and Mischievous.
Knox acknowledges the respect is mutual. “Working with Charla is just a delight. This is my first time working with her and she’s fabulous! She’s such a lovely, lovely person, and she says some naughty, naughty words in the show and I am delighted by that. She’s working hard, and being challenged, and is grateful for the challenge. It’s a total delight to have her in the ensemble.”
As to what Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is, the jury seems to be out, except for the fact it’s a hands-down success that has blown reviewers (New York Times, Village Voice), away everywhere it has played. According to Wikipedia, the play deals with “topics of rape culture, sometimes allegorically discussed as trespassing, and body shaming. Societal expectations towards women are displayed and broken, while the gender bias of language is being explored.”
Wendy Knox notes, “Last spring, I kept coming across mentions of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. and they kept snagging my attention. I finally got my hands on a copy of the play, read it, laughed and howled and finally asked my comrade Maria Asp to give it a read.
“It left [us] tears running down our faces, and it did seem that we had to do the play. So here we are, wrestling with this unabashedly feminist play that calls for us to ‘revolutionize the world.’”
Knox adds, “Any script [for which stage directions are] ‘Above all, this play should not be well-behaved,’ would thrill me. In rehearsals, I am delighted when a cast member comes up with an idea and I might flinch, and they remind me that the play is not supposed to be well-behaved.
“Someone just handed me a license to be a bad girl! I love working on the script. Her writing is delicate, specific and at the same time, open-ended and challenging.”
Bailey looks back over her beginnings to reflect, “I was motivated to become an actor when I saw the musical Grease on television as a kid. I said: ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ I wanted to be on television.
“Then I saw West Side Story performed at my high school to be, and it just reiterated that feeling. I didn’t know I could do stage, too! I was excited and I haven’t stopped dreaming and breathing it since.”
She didn’t, however, start off on the stage. “I modeled and then did lots of poetry, my own stuff, mostly erotic and was dubbed the ‘Erotic Goddess of Poetry,’” recalls Bailey. “Then one day, I said, ‘Who am I kidding — I have to do this all the way! Then I started to see it as a motivation for my children to fulfill their dreams.
“I love knowing that my children see my passion for acting and see me not letting anything get in my way. I think of them, my grandmother, my aunt — everyone that tells me they are proud of me — for doing what I love to do. That’s an amazing feeling. Not to mention there has been younger people that look to me as a mentor. I can’t let them down.”
Frank Theatre’s production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. opens at Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia Street, St. Paul, Sept. 29-Oct. 22, Thursday & Friday at 8 pm; Saturday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets: $25 @ www.franktheatre.org.