Stars Behind the Stars: Victoria Bailey

BY Robbie Armstrong, June 1, 2021

Stars Behind The Stars is a bi-weekly series featuring theatre makers behind the scenes.


This week, we sat down with Adjunct Professor Victoria Bailey. Bailey is the Executive Director of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) the not-for-profit organization that sustains live theatre and dance by engaging and cultivating a broad and diverse audience and eliminating barriers to attendance. 


Tell me about your first time in Theatre.

Victoria Bailey: I took my first dance classes when I was four but I don’t really remember those. I grew up in Washington D.C. and I started taking improv and theatre games classes at Arena Stage. I started taking classes with text at the Washington Theatre Club when I was 12 or 13. When I was 16 we moved to Minneapolis and went to theatre school at Children’s Theatre Company. I applied for conservatory performing programs for college and didn’t get in. So I did a lot of stage management in college. I realized that I didn’t want to stage manage because the part that was really interesting to me was the rehearsals. I didn’t love doing the shows, so that’s when I went into management.

How does being a Cancer appear in your work?


VB: I don’t know a lot about it but I do know that Cancers like their home and security. My home has always been very important to me. I’m pretty empathetic and intuitive but that also comes from years of taking class. The thing you learn from acting class is observation.  


You mentioned in an interview that “Theatre is our birthright.” Tell me more about that.


VB: I was probably talking about Wendy Wasserstein who believed that Theatre was the birthright of every New Yorker. The arts are essential. One of the things I believe is you have to have food on your table and access to the arts. A civilized and healthy society is one where everyone is able to partake in the arts. You may discover that you don’t like the theatre when you get there but you must feel welcomed. Theatre is not only for the people who can afford it or for those who were exposed at a young age. It is for everyone. The need to say that over and over has not gone away. People are watching virtual programming who have never gone to the theatre. People are watching because it’s free, they don’t have to get dressed up, and you can leave if you don’t like it. It’s saying a lot about how the live experience can become more accessible. There’s a lot of trauma and the arts can heal. That healing experience should not be limited to the folks we already know. We need to learn how to come together again and be in spaces together again. One election does not make the divide go away. This country is deeply deeply divided. Empathy and storytelling is what happens in the theatre and we need that. We need that to understand the other. 


What’s on the horizon at TDF and what are you currently working on?


VB: We start by helping encourage audiences to go. Audiences are our mission. New York City has to recover and we’ve got work ahead of us. We can’t come back until we work with productions to pull it together. The common assumption is that there will not be tourists. It’s the New Yorkers who will bring theatre back. Shows are going to have to reach broader and more diverse audiences. 


We also will continue our programming for the families with children on the spectrum. Some of the kids on the spectrum may have a hard time putting a mask on, with some sensory issues. The idea of “hybrid” will not go away. There are very technical things. I imagine we will still offer some sort of virtual programming for families with kids on the spectrum. How do you use virtual programming to bring people closer, to the point that they’ll come to the theatre? The Columbia theatre program has done a really good job. 


In a pre pandemic world we worked with 10,000 students at TDF and this year we’ll still reach 5,000 students in a meaningful way. We continued our Wasserstein program. We are still doing the Accessibility program. Many of our programs are still happening. 


Our Costume Collection has been busy. Film and television came back so we’ve been doing a lot of rentals with that. It’s been mostly period dramas. Contemporary works don’t use the collection that much. Schools have been using our costumes. In most years we rent across the country, to 45-50 states. We’ve been surprisingly busy. Now it’s very clear that people are planning for the summer and fall. 


Maybe in the theatre we’re a highly responsible bunch. There’s a lot of post traumatic stress with the shut down and with people not knowing if they had put people at risk. We’re thinking now about what we need the ticket buyer to know and what’s our responsibility as the point of sale. The person buying the ticket needs to know what the show is about and what precautions are in place and what they’ll be asked to do. How do you compel people to read the information? 


What’s one of your favorite theatrical experiences?


VB: There are so many. Among the ones that stick out are experiences that are immersion in another world and in another story. Nicholas Nickleby stands out, and The Coast of Utopia, all three parts in a day. The Van Hove directed Shakespeare plays at BAM. At Nickleby, I didn’t need to leave between part one and part two. There’s something really magical about going on that journey for that long with a company of actors. When a company is doing a marathon for that long, there is an awareness that you’re in it together. You feel that from both sides.


What is something you’ve learned from your students at Columbia?

VB: I learn all the time from my students. What I learn all the time is their perspective and how they see theatre. I learn It’s been hard with teaching. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years at Columbia and the program has completely changed and what I teach has changed as my role has changed. What I’ve noticed that I didn’t see as much 10 years ago is obvious. It’s issues about social justice, equity, and more cross disciplinary thinking. There’s more a sense that one’s career could take many different paths.