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Longtime Playhouse designer dies at age 60

Bruce Bailey died on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Bruce Bailey died on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.

Bruce R. Bailey, a longtime set designer who managed theater productions at the Flat Rock Playhouse and in Southwest Florida for more than 30 years, died suddenly at his home in Fort Myers, Fla., Tuesday at age 60. Friends said the cause of death was heart failure.

A native of Mississippi who arrived at the Flat Rock Playhouse as an apprentice in 1982, Bailey served as a production team member for 30 years before leaving in 2013.

When he left Flat Rock, he rejoined longtime friends and colleagues at the Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers, serving as production manager and as a designer for the company’s ensemble. Coworkers at Florida Rep went to check on him Tuesday morning when he did not show up for work and could not be reached.
“From what we learned from the medical examiner, they think his heart just stopped,” said Amy Jones, a dancer, actor and choreographer and longtime friend of Bailey’s and his three daughters. “They don’t think that it was a heart attack necessarily but he had cardiovascular disease. He just passed suddenly.”
At the Flat Rock Playhouse he met and fell in love with Wendy Wilkins, a Hendersonville native and young actress and singer. When they married he adopted her daughters Sydney and Katie. Together they had a third daughter, Molly, who graduated from high school in Fort Myers this year. Wendy Wilkins died of cancer in 1999, when Molly was just 2 years old.
Besides his work designing sets, Bailey was a talented landscaper who worked with Dennis Maulden to design the courtyard between the rehearsal hall and the Mainstage.
“He built the rehearsal hall where Midnight Studio is held and where Music on the Rock started,” Jones said.
He also was one of the creators of Midnight Studio, a Friday night tradition in which professional actors and apprentices sing and perform sketches.
“For years and years he was the host of that,” Jones said. “He had a little monologue and he passed out popcorn often.
“He was instrumental in every aspect of production at the Playhouse,” she added. “He was also a very smart and very funny man. He had an acerbic wit. He was one of those people that if you started a humorous conversation he could keep it going and make you laugh.” Although he was not a singer, he loved music, favoring Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.

Whether he was designing a courtyard landscape plan or writing sketches for Midnight Studio, Bailey devoted the full measure of his creative energy to the betterment of the Playhouse, said Artistic Director Lisa K. Bryant.
“He was really a real leader for many many years,” she said. “It’s just really sad. He was just here for the opening of ‘Gypsy’ and he came to the opening night party and it was just great to see him. He was so happy getting to see all these great friends who had not been in this space together for many years. He was so glad that he had that time. He was here with his girls and his grandchildren and he had a big smile.”

When Bailey left the Playhouse amid an exodus of longtime staffers and veteran actors during a financial crisis in 2013, longtime friend Bob Cacioppo was happy to take him on fulltime at the Fort Myers theater.
“We first met in the late 1980s when my wife and I ran a theater called the Pirate Theatre on Sanibel Island and that started an almost continuous 27-year friendship and collaboration,” said Cacioppo, the theater’s artistic director. “Then a new theater was built and Bruce worked as our chief designer. I think he designed 20 plays there.
“Bruce two years ago came to live with us and work with us fulltime as our production manager,” he added. “In the short time, 48 hours, since we knew, I must have received like 60 emails. We’re all shocked. We’re all about Bruce’s age, in our late 50s and early 60s, so it just seemed it was too soon for him to go. Besides being a really great man of the theater, he told me we all could make a lot more money doing something else but the excitement doing this work is that every play was a new challenge.
“But his greatness was as a human. He was a very honorable and honest man,” he said. “Because of my 27 years, I was with him when he met a woman and got married. He was living at my house when he found out that his wife was going to have Molly. Bruce, in terms of being a man and a good man and honest man, he was such an exemplary father to those two older daughters that he adopted and to Molly.
“As much as his achievements in the theater and as a designer, I think his greatest achievement was being a man of his word, an honest man and good man. He was a good father and friend. I think we’re all a little bit better because we knew him.”
Florida Rep already decided to dedicate its 2015-16 season to Bailey’s memory.
“Bruce was an exceptional father, a talented man of the theatre, had a keen intelligence, and a great sense of humor, and was an honorable and honest man whose absence will be deeply felt throughout the theatre industry,” the theater said on its website. “Florida Rep is proud to dedicate the 2015-2016 to Bruce’s memory and to his years of artistry and service to this organization.”
Bailey had designed the set for the season’s first show, a new play called “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” which opens Oct. 6.
“He was well loved in this theater community and in the one up there,” said Associate Director Jason Parrish. “He and our founding director, Bob Cacioppo, and his wife, Carrie, and our managing director John Martin were all good friends. He has been a scenic designer since Bob was doing theater on Sanibel and Captiva. He designed a show or two every year. He’s been a leader on our staff and an advocate for our artistic staff, particularly young artists, and his loss will be deeply felt.”
Friends said Bailey’s daughters are thinking about a memorial service, possibly at the Playhouse, though no service has been announced. Besides the daughters, he is survived by two grandchildren.

Longtime Vagabond Scott Treadway launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money "to help the family through the unexpected expenses and ordeal of losing the Rock of the family."